(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped their first game of the 2020 campaign as they fell to the Washington Football Team 23-17 Monday Evening. After a slow start for both offenses, the Pittsburgh offense came to life in the second quarter as they took a 14-0 lead. However, after WR James Washington scored the 2nd Pittsburgh touchdown on a 50-yard catch and run, the Steelers saw their lead slowly dwindle until the deficit was insurmountable. Washington rode an impressive 2nd half defensive performance to slowly chip away at the Pittsburgh lead, and with 2:07 left in the final quarter, K Dustin Hopkins connected on the game-winning field goal. The final blow for Pittsburgh came on the ensuing play as QB Ben Roethlisberger targeted TE Eric Ebron on a short out route before the 2-minute warning. Roethlisberger’s pass was tipped in the air by DE Montez Sweat and hauled in by former Steeler Jon Bostic. The interception destroyed any hopes of a perfect season for the Steelers, as well as put their number one seed status in the AFC in jeopardy. The Steelers’ performance was one of a team that has had its schedule flipped upside down, playing their 2nd game in 5 days. Drops, missed tackles and injuries are a few of the obstacles that the Steelers faced today, and they will have to continue to clear those if they want to lift their 7th Lombardi Trophy at season’s end.
Injuries have piled up for the Steelers as they lost LB Robert Spillane and CB Joe Haden during today’s game. That is in addition to losing LB Bud Dupree and CB Steven Nelson a week ago. This is a concerning trend that will only be more prevalent as the Steelers will travel to Buffalo next Sunday in what will be yet another short week. While injuries have taken their toll, it was not the only reason that Pittsburgh fell short to Washington on Monday. Dropped passes and miscommunications in key situations plagued HC Mike Tomlin’s team. TE Eric Ebron and WR Diontae Johnson each recorded multiple drops, making the Steelers' path to victory a tough one. Just as well, miscommunications on the defensive side of the ball played a role in the Steelers’ first loss, perhaps highlighted best on the game-tying touchdown catch as TE Logan Thomas walked into the left corner of the endzone unaccounted for.
Both sides struggled on offense for the majority of the game, but both teams protected the football well. Pittsburgh’s front seven was swarming QB Alex Smith for the majority of the game, but the veteran QB stood tall under pressure and delivered in several key situations. On the flip side, Washington did not record a sack on Roethlisberger, but they made their presence known through a suffocating run defense and many tipped passes. LB T.J. Watt strengthened his DPOY resume in his first game without teammate Bud Dupree as he sacked Alex Smith, had 2 tackles for a loss, and 6 tackles. In addition, Watt forced a fumble and very nearly recovered it for Pittsburgh, but as he tried to scoop up the ball and return it the other way TE Logan Thomas smothered it. The aforementioned Thomas had himself a day as he reeled in 9 of Smith’s passes for 98 yards and a score as he was the most valuable offensive player in this affair.
Up next for the Steelers is a trip to Buffalo in an important AFC matchup with playoff implications for both sides. As for Washington, they will travel to Arizona to play the 49ers- yes the 49ers, as they will take on the 49ers in their temporary home. In regards to his team’s first loss, HC Mike Tomlin has already said that his team has the opportunity to “smile in the face of it”. Super Bowl-caliber teams are able to do just that - we will now see if the Steelers are of that caliber.