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Saunders: Steelers Just Showed Why They Can’t Rely on Winning Close Games



Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt gets up after a play against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 19, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

CLEVELAND — The Pittsburgh Steelers jumped out to a 6-3 record over their first nine games of the season, despite being out-gained in every single game and improbably winning all six of their one-score contests.

That level of consistency in winning close games, and dominating the turnover battle to the point that being out-gained as a matter of course seemed unlikely to continue, but the Steelers had strong words of opposition when those questions were posed this week.

“Screw you,” defensive captain Cam Heyward said. “We worked too hard for this. … Smoke and mirrors, I think that’s a cloud of smoke.”

But some of them are singing a different tune after Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers were once again out-gained, and once again had a chance to win a game late after struggling through much of it on offense.

But when they had a chance to win it in the fourth quarter, this time, Kenny Pickett and the offense couldn’t come up with a go-ahead drive. This time, the defense gave up a measly two field goals after the second drive of the game. But it was just not enough, as Cleveland rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson navigating a game-winning drive in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

“Record-wise, we’re good,” Harris said. “You can look at the record. You can do one of two things. You can look at the record and say, ‘OK, we’re still good right now,’ or you can look at the record and be like, ‘If we keep playing this type of football, how long is that shit gonna last?’ I look at it like, how long is that shit going to last? Y’all can look at it like it’s a good record, but this is the NFL. Winning like how we did is not gonna get us nowhere.”

Pickett, who has authored several of those game-winning drives, said that just because the Steelers have been able to come through with those types of victories in the past, doesn’t mean that they always will be able to in the future.

“You have to go do it,” he said. “Like I always tell you guys in the post game press conferences after we win, in those two-minute drills, in those fourth quarters, guys have to come together and do it. Today we didn’t, so we have to learn from it.”

Most of that discussion came from the locker room, and head coach Mike Tomlin tempered his criticism of the team’s play.

“We just came up a play or two short,” he said. “That happens. That’s what happens when you’re competing in this league and on days like to day. We own that.”

It doesn’t happen when you beat a team soundly. It doesn’t happen in two-score wins — something the Steelers have just three of since the start of the 2021 season.

If you keep playing close games, you’re going to lose some of them, no matter how good Tomlin is in those games.