Mike Asti is joined by Alan Saunders in this postgame edition of Mic Drop following the Steelers win over the Rams. Can the defense keep saving the offense? Is there a fix for the lack luster running game? And just how much has Minkah Fitzpatrick’s greatness been impacting the team?
Steelers Playoff Hopes on the Precipice after Loss to NY Jets
It was early in the second quarter of the game between the Steelers and NY Jets when it appeared that the Devlin Hodges era had reached its inglorious end following his second interception of the first half, a “duck” near the pylon putting the kibosh on a promising Steelers drive. That pick took points off the board. The next possession Mason Rudolph found himself back under center running what’s left of the offense.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. With Mason Rudolph forced out with an injury as the fourth quarter began, it would again come down to the undrafted quarterback out of Samford.
This time there was no magic, as the offense was unable to do much of anything at all without Rudolph, who lasted less than a half and Conner, who left in the second quarter.
The Steelers defense opened the game by giving up a quick touchdown as the Jets smartly mixed passes and runs down the field. Darnold threaded a perfect pass over Terrell Edmunds and Joe Haden for a 23-yard touchdown to Robbie Anderson for the score.
After rushing the ball six times for 32 yards, James Conner left the game in the second quarter with a thigh injury depleting the Pittsburgh offense even further. The oft-injured running back did not return.
With Rudolph leading the offense again for the first time since week 12, the Steelers largely abandoned the running game. It worked, the second-year quarterback completed nine of 12 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in less than a quarter of action.
Late in the first half, soon to be defensive MVP TJ Watt sacked and stripped Sam Darnold and recovered the fumble for good measure to put the Steelers in business with under a minute left, trailing 10-3. Following a defensive penalty that gave the Steelers a first down with just nine seconds left, Rudolph found Diontae Johnson in the endzone for a 29-yard touchdown, tying the game going into halftime.
Steelers started off the second half with the ball, looking for their first lead of the game but were forced to punt after picking up just one first down. The Jets were then able to move the ball methodically to midfield before Darnold hooked up with Trevon Wesco, who was completely uncovered, for a 32-yard gain to the 19 yard line. The drive stopped there but a short Sam Ficken field goal put the Jets back in front, 13-10.
The rest of the quarter was a special teams battle as neither team was able to do anything on offense. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Steelers gifted the Jets a first down by jumping into the neutral zone on a 4th-and-five. But Darnold and the New York offense were unable to move the ball any further.
Then, seemingly without warning, Duck Hodges received the call again after Rudolph was unable to continue at QB following an apparent shoulder injury.
Hodges and company drove the field, getting into field goal territory before a sack and a bad snap knocked the team back and forced a punt.
Darnold and the Jets were up to the challenge, quickly driving into Steelers territory. An 11-yard scamper by Le’Veon Bell on 3rd-and-14 at the 35 gave Sam Ficken an easier field goal attempt and he converted giving the Jets a six point cushion.
With 3:11 left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers needing a touchdown, it was up to Devlin Hodges once again. However, a short run, a sack and an incompletion left the Steelers on life support.
The ball back in the hands of the NY Jets offense and the season on the line, the Pittsburgh defense held, forcing a quick three and out and burned only 20 seconds on the clock.
A 28-yard punt gave the Steelers life, and the ball at the 40 with 1:27 left in the game. But after a single first down, the Steelers stalled and an incompletion on 4th down ended the game.
Both teams were disciplined, with only seven combined penalties between them. The Steelers committed one more penalty (four to three) for 34 yards to 30 for the Jets. The teams had almost identical offensive numbers, 263 yards for the Jets to 260 for the Steelers. The Steelers had 185 yards passing to 174 and 75 rushing yards to 85 for the Jets.
From the Locker Room: Heyward, Hodges, Edmunds on Losing as a Team
PITTSBURGH – It was a funeral-like atmosphere in the Pittsburgh locker room following the Steelers 17-10 loss to Buffalo. A national audience witnessed the Steelers fail to win a game that could’ve basically secured them a spot in the playoffs and they weren’t making any excuses after the game.
Cam Heyward, who takes pride in being one of the most vocal leaders on the team, made it very clear he isn’t supporting any opinion that revolves around blaming only the offense for the loss to the Bills.
“We should’ve got off the field more,” was Heyward’s emphatic response to a question about if he was frustrated with the offensive turnovers. The veteran defensive end was making reference to the defense not getting enough stops in a close game.
It’s expected that a leader like Cam Heyward isn’t going to allow one player, or even one unit, to take all of the blame. But quarterback Devlin Hodges, who threw 4 interceptions on the night, also knows he needs to be better. Hodges put the game on his shoulders, but then mentioned how several of his teammates came up him to express their support moving forward.
Despite the loss, safety Terrell Edmunds can still appreciate how special it was o play against his brother Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds on Sunday Night Football.
Giveaways Costly as Steelers Fall to Bills, 17-10
PITTSBURGH — Sunday night’s game between the Steelers and Buffalo Bills was expected to be a defensive battle.
The two units came into the game among the tops in the AFC in points allowed this season. The key would be to limit mistakes in a low-scoring game.
In the end, the Steelers made one too many, as Devlin Hodges was intercepted four and James Conner and Diontae Johnson fumbled an exchange as the Steelers came up one score short, losing 17-10.
Hodges was intercepted in the end zone twice with under two minutes remaining for the final blow. The Steelers had two turnovers in the red zone, as the exchange between Conner and Johnson was fumbled at the Buffalo nine-yard line late in the first half.
Hodges was intercepted by Jordan Poyer in the end zone with 1:54 to play. The Steelers defense held, getting Hodges another shot, but he was once again intercepted in the end zone, this time by Levi Wallace, to seal the game.
The Steelers offense was unable to move the ball for much of the game, with Hodges held to 202 yards on 23 of 38 passing and the running game bottled up, as well.
In his return from a shoulder injury, James Conner had a couple of big carries, with runs of 15 and 17 yards, but finished with just 42 yards on eight carries.
The Steelers defense was stout, forcing a pair of turnovers of its own and holding Bills quarterback Josh Allen to 139 yards passing.
The Bills just took advantage of the Steelers mistakes, scoring a touchdown after a 22-yard Jordan Berry punt in the first quarter and a field goal after a Hodges interception in the third quarter.
The Bills improved to 9-4 and clinched a postseason berth, while the Steelers fell to 8-5. The Steelers will visit the New York Jets next Sunday.