(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The Steelers' defense had their way in the first half against Washington, but they fell apart in the second half as they allowed Washington to score 20 points, 13 of which were scored in the fourth quarter that led to Washington's 23-17 upset over the Steelers. Washington was 0 of 8 on third down and scored just three points in the first half.
Things really started to turn in Washington’s favor on their first possession of the second half. They faced a third-and-14 from their own 14-yard line and Smith completed a short screen pass to wide receiver Cam Sims that turned into a 31-yard catch-and-run. Sims’ big third-down reception ignited the offense and Peyton Barber capped off the 14-play, 82-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown to cut the Steelers lead to 14-10.
"I thought that touchdown drive to open the second half when we had them in third-and-14, they hit that perimeter screen for a significant gain to move the chains that started the ball rolling the wrong way," Tomlin said after the game.
Sims’ other key reception came on third-and-4 with the score tied at 17-17 with 3:10 remaining in the game and the ball was at Washington’s 44-yard line. Sims beat Cam Sutton on the play and had a one-handed grab for 29 yards. Four plays later, Dustin Hopkins made a 45-yard field goal to give Washington a 20-17 lead with 2:04 left in the game. Sims also had a 30-yard catch-and-run late in the second quarter that set up a 49-yard field goal by Hopkins to go into the half down 14-3. Sims finished the game with five receptions for 92 yards (18.4 average) and Thomas had nine receptions for 98 yards (10.9 average) and a touchdown.
"Less dominant on third downs in the second half and that is what created the possessions or time of possessions and subsequent points," Tomlin said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "I thought the third down and long to start the half where we had them backed up and they were able to throw a perimeter screen and move the chains was significant. Not only significant in that drive which led to a touchdown, but also significant in terms of keeping us off balance the remainder of the half."
The Steelers lead the league in takeaways with 23 but didn't have any against Washington. It's just the second time this year the Steelers didn't force a turnover in a game. The only other time that occurred was against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. T.J. Watt did have his first force fumble of the season in the game, but he couldn't come up with the recovery.
"We're a group that thrives off of turnovers," Tomlin said. "We average over two turnovers a game defensively. We weren't able to get any in that game. I thought that had an adverse effect on the game as well."