Updated: Jan 14
JuJu Smith-Schuster - The offense went to a pass-happy mode in the second half with trailing 35-7 and the receivers were able to pad their stats. Smith-Schuster stood out the most with a season-high 13 receptions for 157 yards (12.1 average) and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and with the cap floor being at $175 million due to lost revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith-Schuster may have played his final game in the black and gold.
Slow start - On the first offensive play of the game, Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over the head of Roethlisberger and strong safety Karl Joesph recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Browns an early 7-0 lead. On the next possession, Roethlisberger was under pressure and threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by cornerback M.J. Stewart. Three plays later, Mayfield connected to Jarvis Landry on a 40-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Landry beat Mike Hilton on the play and Terrell Edmunds took an awful angle that allowed Landry to take it to the house. In a blink of an eye, the Browns led 14-0 with 9:46 left in the first quarter.
Run defense - It was imperative for the Steelers to stop the Browns rushing attack in this game and they completely failed. On the Browns' second possession of the game, Nick Chubb broke off runs of 17 and 20 yards on the first two plays of the drive. Kareem Hunt capped off the six-play, 65-yard scoring drive with an 11-yard touchdown run where he carried a couple of Steelers' defenders into the end zone. With 4:40 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers were already down 21-0. The start of the game was similar to the 2017 divisional-round game against the Jacksonville Jaguars when the Steelers spotted Jacksonville 21 points in the first 18:29 minutes. After another Roethlisberger interception and the third turnover of the game, the Browns capitalized once again with an 8-yard rushing touchdown by Hunt who finished off a three-play, 15-yard scoring drive. The Browns led 28-0 with 1:56 left in the first quarter. The Browns' 28 first-quarter points were the most by any team in NFL playoff history. In the first half, the Steelers allowed the Browns to rush for 103 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns, an average of 7.4 yards per carry. The Steelers went into halftime down 35-10. According to Warren Sharp, it was the first time the Steelers allowed 35 first-half points since the 1970 merger. The Browns rushed for just 24 yards on 18 carries in the second half, but the damage was already done. Hunt rushed for 44 yards on four carries (11.0 average) in the first half and had two touchdown runs. Chubb led the team with 76 yards rushing on 18 carries (4.2 average). The Steelers have allowed over 100 yards rushing in six of their final seven games to end the season.
Ben Roethlisberger - Roethlisberger's passes were off-target throughout the game and he threw a brutal four interceptions. Roethlisberger played better in the second half after throwing three interceptions and having a 42.6 quarterback rating in the first half. It still wasn't good enough, however. Roethlisberger finished the game 47 of 68 (69.1%) for 501 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 85.5. Roethlisberger turns 39 years old in March and has a $41,250,00 cap hit in 2021. That's a hefty price to pay for an aging quarterback that's on the decline. Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer, but the Steelers need to look toward the future at the quarterback position. If Father Time hasn't already defeated Roethlisberger, it's certainly closing in on No. 7.
Maurkice Pouncey - In the biggest of the year, the Pro Bowl center suddenly forgot how to snap the ball. Pouncey practically handed the Browns a touchdown with his snap that went over Roethlisberger's head on the first offensive play of the game. Pouncey had a couple of other bad snaps in the game and got blown up by defensive tackle Larry Obunjobi on a third-and-1 play in the first quarter that resulted in fullback Derek Watt be stopped short of the first down marker. Pouncey's Pro Bowl nomination had more to do based on his name than his actual play, which has been the case in the last two years. There's just no excuse for a veteran center to not have his snaps on point, especially to have such an atrocious snap as he did on the first offensive play of the game that spotted the Browns seven points.
No takeaways and explosive plays - Coming into the game, it was crucial that the Steelers' defense got takeaways, and they failed to accomplish that tonight. They finished the game -5 in turnover differential and didn't get a single takeaway. In four of the Steelers' last six games of the season, they didn't have a single takeaway. All four games they lost. Mayfield threw just one interception in his last nine games of the regular season, and he threw three touchdowns and no interceptions tonight. Two of Mayfield's touchdown passes each went for 40 yards, the first going to Landry in the first quarter and then to Chubb on a screen pass in the fourth quarter. It's tough to win when you're minus-5 in turnover differential and allow two explosive plays for touchdowns. The 48 points the Steelers allowed were the most at Heinz Field in the regular season or the playoffs and the third-most all-time at home.
No sacks - The defense also had no sacks in the game and no quarterback hits after leading the league in both categories. Ironically, the last time the defense didn't record a sack in a game was the 2017 divisional-round game loss to the Jaguars.
Mike Tomlin - The Browns didn't have their head coach and were missing four starters due to COVID-19 situations. The Browns had just one full practice this week and still came out and scored 28 points in the first quarter. The Steelers started the game completely flat and that falls on Tomlin. Since the 2011 season, the Steelers are 3-6 in playoffs games and the loss to the Browns was very similar to their 2017 divisional-round loss to the Jaguars. Getting down early in the first half and then make an effort to come back but ultimately fall short. Tomlin made a questionable decision to not go for it when the Steelers were down 35-23 in the beginning of the fourth quarter and were facing a fourth-and-1 on their own 46-yard line. Instead of going for it, the Steelers tried to draw the Browns offsides but were unable to and took a delay of game and then would punt. The Steelers had all the momentum at the time, scoring 16 unanswered points. On the Browns' next possession they drove 80 yards down the field on six plays and Chubbed capped the drive by taking a screen pass for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Browns a 42-23 with 12:32 left in the fourth quarter. The Steelers were playing catch up all game, but the 40-yard touchdown reception by Chubb was really the dagger. The defense forced two consecutive three-and-outs up until that point, but with facing just a fourth-and-1 and down 12 points in the beginning of the fourth quarter, Tomlin should have not lived in his fears at that moment and went for it.