Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) celebrates with teammate Dan Moore Jr. after scoring during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Najee Harris ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns 28-14 on Sunday but were eliminated from the playoffs when Miami edged the New York Jets.
The Steelers (9-8) will have to settle for a 16th straight non-losing season under coach Mike Tomlin, fueled by a 7-2 finish. Pittsburgh’s ugly 2-6 start included an injury to star linebacker T.J. Watt and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett’s ascension to the starting job at halftime of a Week 4 loss to the Jets.
Pickett completed 13 of 29 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown and avoided an interception for the sixth time in his last seven appearances.
Pittsburgh’s defense sacked Deshaun Watson seven times to assure the Steelers of finishing ahead of the Browns (7-10) in the standings for the 34th consecutive time.
Cleveland has had 17 seasons of 10 losses or more since the franchise rebooted in 1999.
Watson, who was suspended for the first 11 games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, connected on 19 of 29 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, both of which the Steelers turned into points. Nick Chubb ran for 77 yards and caught a touchdown pass to join Jim Brown as the only players in Browns history to exceed 1,500 yards rushing in a season.
Pittsburgh ran off 20 straight points — 10 of them directly after turnovers — after spotting Cleveland an early touchdown. The Browns drew within 20-14 on a 2-yard flip from Watson to Chubb with 10:20 to go.
The Steelers responded with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge by fullback Derek Watt with 4:39 to play.
While the Steelers entered the finale still in the mix, Cleveland was looking toward 2023 following an uneven season in which the turmoil surrounding Watson’s status overshadowed the on-field product for long stretches.
The Browns will miss out on the playoffs for a second straight year, although coach Kevin Stefanski’s job appears safe. The same cannot be said of members of Stefanski’s staff. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods’ status could be in jeopardy as the unit was wildly inconsistent and awful against the run, even with Myles Garrett — whose 16 sacks tied his own club record — having another spectacular season.
Browns: LB Reggie Ragland left in the first half with a shoulder injury. … CB Denzel Ward did not play in the second half due to a shoulder injury. Ward was questionable during the week. … T Jedrick Wills went to the sideline in the final minute with a leg injury.
Steelers: WR Gunnar Olszewski injured his left leg on a jet sweep in the third quarter. … C Mason Cole was evaluated for a left ankle injury in the third quarter but did not miss a series. … TE Pat Freiermuth left with a left leg injury in the fourth quarter.
Former Browns quarterback and Ohio native Bernie Kosar said he was fired from the team’s radio broadcast team on Sunday. Kosar admitted earlier this week to placing a bet on the Browns to win the game. Ohio made sports betting legal on Jan. 1.
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FILE – Pittsburgh Steelers’ Franco Harris (32) eludes a tackle by Oakland Raiders’ Jimmy Warren as he runs 42-yards for a touchdown after catching a deflected pass during an AFC Divisional NFL football playoff game in Pittsburgh, Dec. 23, 1972. Harris’ scoop of a deflected pass and subsequent run for the winning touchdown — forever known as the “Immaculate Reception” — has been voted the greatest play in NFL history. On the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception” — Friday, Dec. 23, 2022 — Pittsburghers recall how it boosted morale during the collapse of the steel industry and has served as a cultural rallying point ever since. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck, File)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris has died. He was 72. Harris’ heads-up thinking authored “The Immaculate Reception.” It is considered the most iconic play in NFL history. Harris ran for 12,120 yards and won four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s. The team’s dynasty began in earnest when Harris decided to keep running during a last-second heave by Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw in a playoff game against Oakland in 1972. His catch and run off a deflected pass gave the Steelers their first-ever playoff win and is forever immortalized as the “Immaculate Reception.”
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool (11) warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Wide receiver Chase Claypool is heading to the Chicago Bears. A person with knowledge of the deal tells The Associated Press the Pittsburgh Steelers have traded Claypool to Chicago for a second-round pick in the 2023 draft. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal was not official. The trade gives Chicago quarterback Justin Fields a downfield threat in an effort to boost a passing attack that ranks last in the NFL, averaging just 126.9 yards per game.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) aims a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee )
By ALANIS THAMES AP Sports Writer
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa got the Dolphins off to a fast start in his return from a concussion, and Miami held on throughout a scoreless second half to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 16-10. The Dolphins snapped a three-game skid that began on Sept. 29, when Tagovailoa was concussed in a loss at Cincinnati. Miami coach Mike McDaniel opted not to have Jason Sanders kick his fourth field goal of the game midway through the third quarter for a two-score lead. Chase Edmonds was stuffed for no gain on fourth-and-3. The decision loomed large as Miami punted on its next five possessions. But the Dolphins intercepted rookie Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett twice in the closing minutes to seal it.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin meets with reporters after an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022. The Bills won 38-3. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — For nearly two decades the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed immune to the realities of the NFL.
Seasons came, seasons went. And the Steelers stayed relevant. In the mix. A factor even as the fortunes of their AFC North rivals — Baltimore chief among them — and the vast majority of the rest of the league rose and fell and rose again, just the way it’s supposed to work under the salary cap.
During coach Mike Tomlin’s first 15 years on the job, Pittsburgh played exactly one game in which it was eliminated from playoff contention.
One. One out of 241. One.
It’s a figure that seems all but certain to climb by several multiples in 2022 after the Steelers fell to 1-4 during an embarrassing 38-3 loss to Buffalo on Sunday.
“We just got smashed today,” Tomlin said shortly after the franchise’s worst setback in 33 years, a dismantling that exposed a staggering gap in talented depth between the two teams.
The Bills hardly missed a beat despite missing tight end Dawson Knox and safety Jordan Poyer, among others. Buffalo rookies were making plays all over the field. Wide receiver Khalil Shakir caught the first five passes of his career. Running back James Cook ran by a group that included linebackers Jamir Jones and Ryan Anderson — both of whom were on the practice squad at the start of the season — to the end zone for his first score.
The Steelers have made signing their best players (linebacker T.J. Watt, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, WR Diontae Johnson) to lucrative extensions a priority, moves that require them to find good players on the cheap.
It hasn’t happened.
The same team that found gems in players that became roster fixtures such as Antonio Brown (sixth round), linebacker Vince Williams (sixth round) and Ramon Foster (undrafted) and Alejandro Villanueva (free-agent signing) has swung and missed far more often than not in recent years. The decision to use high picks on offensive skill position players such as running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Chase Claypool rather than fortify the trenches in an effort to prop open the championship window under Ben Roethlisberger appears ill-advised.
Roethlisberger isn’t around anymore to cover up the warts on offense. Watt is out indefinitely with a left pectoral injury. Fitzpatrick is banged up. And the defense is a mess in their absence.
The Steelers have been 1-4 before on Tomlin’s watch, pulling themselves out of a massive hole to nearly reach the postseason in 2013.
They’ve gotten blown out before on Tomlin’s watch. Last year alone they followed 31 and 26- point losses with victories the following week.
Yet the resiliency that’s been the trademark of Tomlin-coached teams seems far away at the moment.
Not with the offense 30th in the league in scoring. Not with practice squad players filling in for an injury-ravaged defense. Not with the very small margin for error the Steelers needed to work within as they began the post-Roethlisberger era — don’t turn the ball over and hope the defense reverts to its 2020 version — obliterated well before Halloween.
Tomlin promised “to turn over whatever stone to change the outcomes of games like what transpired today.”
The stones they’ve turned over on the roster have yet to make a significant positive impact. Their short-term options are basically limited to raiding other team’s practice squads or signing guys off the street.
The chance at real solutions likely won’t come until free agency and the 2023 draft.
There are 12 more games remaining in 2022, a dozen more up-close looks at the harsh realities of a business model the Steelers are discovering they are no longer immune to.
The decision to turn to rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett looks like the right move. Pickett appeared to be two things against the Bills: fearless and decisive, qualities Mitch Trubisky failed to show with any sort of consistency during his 3 1/2 games at the helm.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Everything else pretty much. Tomlin wasn’t lying when he said it’s all interconnected. Yet the best way to take some of the pressure off a beat-up and underperforming defense is by scoring more.
The Steelers have six offensive touchdowns through five games. Cleveland running back Nick Chubb has seven.
Cam Heyward. The defensive end’s No. 97 was in relentless pursuit of the ball on Sunday regardless of the circumstances or who was around him, a testament to his professionalism and the example he is trying to set.
Harris. Maybe it’s the foot injury he suffered during training camp. Maybe it’s the lack of push by the offensive line in front of him. Maybe it’s the scheme. Whatever it is, the second-year running back has been unable to get it going. He is averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry through five games and has looked like the lesser of the two options next to backup Jaylen Warren.
0 — the number of touchdown receptions by Pittsburgh wide receivers in mid-October.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth sustained a concussion in the third quarter that appeared to leave him briefly unconscious on the field. It’s his third concussion in less than two seasons, a troubling trend for a promising young player. … DT Larry Ogunjobi left with a back injury and did not return and the secondary remains a shambles, with Levi Wallace (concussion) and Cam Sutton (hamstring) joining the injury list.
Find some semblance of pride while trying to do something that’s been particularly problematic over the years: beat Tom Brady. The Tampa Bay QB is 9-3 against Pittsburgh in his career, with 29 touchdowns against five interceptions.
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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10) passes against the Detroit Lions during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mitch Trubisky staked his claim to be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback, throwing for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 19-9 win over Detroit in the NFL’s preseason finale. Trubisky was at his best late in the first half, leading the Steelers on a 92-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Steven Sims. Rookie Kenny Pickett played well in the second half for Ptitsburgh but it appears Trubisky has the inside track to be the starter when the Steelers begin the regular season in Cincinnati on Sept. 11.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) looks for a receiver against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
By MARK LONG AP Pro Football Writer
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Kenny Pickett’s second preseason performance was as impressive as his first, and it came against better competition. Pittsburgh’s rookie quarterback completed 6 of 7 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in a 16-15 victory at Jacksonville on Saturday night. Pickett, who threw two TD passes while working with the third-team offense last week against Seattle, was on the field much earlier against the Jaguars. Although his first series was mostly a mess because of miscues, his second was about as good as could be expected. The 20th overall pick directed a 63-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half. He capped the 42-second series with an 11-yard toss to running back Benny Snell.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed veteran defensive end Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year deal. The signing shores up a position of need following Stephon Tuitt’s retirement earlier this month. The 28-year-old Ogunjobi spent last season with the Cincinnati Bengals. A tentative three-year agreement to play for the Chicago Bears was nullified when Ogunjobi failed a physical. He was recovering from foot surgery at the time of the signing. Ogunjobi played well last season for the Bengals, recording a career-high seven sacks. His arrival gives the Steelers another veteran to help shore up a run defense that finished dead last in the league in 2022.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward has been selected as the 2022 Good Guy Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America. Heyward, the 18th Good Guy Award winner, is the second member of the Steelers franchise to get the award, joining Jerome Bettis, who won the inaugural honor in 2005. The award is given to an NFL player for his qualities and professional style in helping pro football writers do their jobs. Heyward did not miss a media availability during the 2021 season, and those who covered the Steelers noted he doesn’t avoid answering tough questions. He was cited for consistently going “above and beyond” to build an honest rapport with those who cover the team.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Retooling the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is nearly complete after the NFL draft. The Steelers used five of their seven players on skill position players. Their haul included quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. Pittsburgh also drafted running back/tight end Connor Heyward, the younger brother of All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward. The Steelers will have one of the youngest offenses in the league in 2022, with every projected started age 28 or younger.