Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Beat Baker Mayfield, Browns as T.J. Watt Records 4 Sacks

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 4, 2022

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 03: T.J. Watt #90 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after a sack during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on January 03, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers live to fight another day in the NFL playoff hunt.

A 26-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football ensures Pittsburgh heads into the final week with a shot at clinching a postseason berth.

A five-yard touchdown reception for Diontae Johnson and two Chris Boswell field goals helped the Steelers take a 13-0 lead. David Njoku made it a one-score game with 56 seconds left in the third quarter on a three-yard touchdown catch.


Fingertip grab by <a href="https://twitter.com/David_Njoku80?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@David_Njoku80</a> for the <a href="https://twitter.com/Browns?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Browns</a> TD! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Browns?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Browns</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CLEvsPIT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CLEvsPIT</a> on ESPN<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i">https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i</a> <a href="https://t.co/BOwwjQLlup">pic.twitter.com/BOwwjQLlup</a>

Two more Boswell field goals and a dominant defense were enough to hold Cleveland at bay. The Browns finished with 232 total yards. Baker Mayfield was sacked nine times as well.

A one-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to Harrison Bryant provided some late drama, but it didn't last long, as Pittsburgh recovered the ensuing onside kick. Najee Harris broke free for a 37-yard touchdown with 51 seconds on the clock for good measure.

Ben Roethlisberger acknowledged Thursday that this could be the final home game of his career. Between that and the clear playoff stakes, the Steelers players weren't lacking for sources of motivation.

Notable Performers

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: 24-of-46, 123 yards, one touchdown, one interception

Najee Harris, RB, Steelers: 28 carries, 188 yards, one touchdown; three receptions, 18 yards

Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns: 16-of-38, 185 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions; two carries, 16 yards

Nick Chubb, RB, Browns: 12 carries, 58 yards

Steelers Rally Around Roethlisberger

Even though nothing is set in stone about Roethlisberger's status beyond 2021, Steelers fans wanted to make sure he had a proper send-off if this is indeed his last game at Heinz Field.


"And your quarterback. Number 7. Ben Roethlisberger!" <a href="https://twitter.com/steelers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@steelers</a> 💛 <a href="https://t.co/Kuig5A7jzF">pic.twitter.com/Kuig5A7jzF</a>

ESPN @espn

💛🖤 <a href="https://t.co/QgTmfwDpbd">pic.twitter.com/QgTmfwDpbd</a>

Of course, this game also served as a reminder of how the 39-year-old might be holding the offense back a bit. He threw the ball 34 times in the first half yet still had just 96 yards through the air.

Harris was the standout offensive performer.

The running back wrote his name into the team's record book by breaking Franco Harris' mark for most rushing yards by a rookie. This stiff arm on M.J. Stewart Jr. generally encapsulated how well Browns defenders were bringing Harris down.


"That's Derrick Henry-esque right there." <a href="https://twitter.com/ohthatsNajee22?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ohthatsnajee22</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CLEvsPIT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CLEvsPIT</a> on ESPN<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i">https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i</a> <a href="https://t.co/0yaehMiKU6">pic.twitter.com/0yaehMiKU6</a>

T.J. Watt, meanwhile, burnished his Defensive Player of the Year resume by getting to Mayfield for four sacks and breaking up two passes. With 21.5 sacks on the season, he now finds himself in elite company. Only 11 other players have officially hit entered the 20-sack club.

JJ Watt @JJWatt

Welcome to the 20+ sack club <a href="https://twitter.com/_TJWatt?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_TJWatt</a>! <br><br>(Only one person ever has done it twice. Imagine if it was your older brother and he bragged about it, that would suck.) <br><br>Go break the record kid.

Christopher Carter @CarterCritiques

Didn't T.J. Watt also just have cracked ribs like a week ago? How is he doing this? 3 sacks, two batted passes with his defense not allowing a single point with 2:58 left in the 3rd. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Steelers?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Steelers</a>

It's not out of the question for Watt to take down Michael Strahan's single-season record (22.5 sacks in 2001) in Week 18, too.

Mayfield will certainly be happy he doesn't have to see the two-time All-Pro again this season.


21.5 SACKS FOR <a href="https://twitter.com/_TJWatt?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_TJWATT</a>.<br><br>He's one away from tying the NFL record! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HereWeGo?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HereWeGo</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CLEvsPIT?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CLEvsPIT</a> on ESPN<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i">https://t.co/cgTGrVtr6i</a> <a href="https://t.co/BH29WgpmCN">pic.twitter.com/BH29WgpmCN</a>

Watt, on the other hand, might wish he had one more game to feast on Cleveland's offensive line.

The End for Another Quarterback?

What a difference a year makes. In 2020, Mayfield went 21-of-34 for 263 yards and three touchdowns as the Browns beat the Steelers 48-37 at Heinz Field in the AFC Wild Card Round.

It felt like a symbolic moment for both Cleveland and Mayfield, with the former turning a corner to become a genuine contender and the latter firmly stamping his place as the franchise quarterback.

Now back in the Steel City, Mayfield delivered the kind of performance that raises further doubt as to his future with the Browns.

At one point in the first half, the fourth-year signal-caller had 10 straight attempts end without a completion. Things didn't improve much from there.

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Baker Mayfield completed his first pass attempt tonight to Jarvis Landry for 20 yards.<br><br>His next 10 pass attempts were either incomplete or intercepted, the longest streak by any passer this season. <a href="https://t.co/XuxoONRSLf">pic.twitter.com/XuxoONRSLf</a>

Sam Monson @PFF_Sam

And look, the dude's played all year with a broken shoulder. <br><br>There's an unknowable percentage that's chopping out from under him to begin with.<br><br>But this is like when his OL was hot garb in 2019 &amp; he steered into the skid. Has a real habit of pouring gas on a dumpster fire.

With their quarterback clearly struggling, the Browns didn't put the ball in the hands of Nick Chubb as much as one would've expected.

Cleveland didn't list Chubb on its Week 17 injury report, yet his usage Monday was so puzzling that an injury to the three-time Pro Bowler was the most plausible explanation.

Jake Trotter @Jake_Trotter

Either Chubb is injured, they're shelving him until next season or Stefanski is facing him in his fantasy football championship.

Andrew Fillipponi @ThePoniExpress

Kevin Stefanski is making Matt Canada look like Bill Walsh with this offensive gameplan.

In terms of wins and losses, this certainly isn't the lowest point for the Browns, but the 2021 campaign qualifies as one of the most disappointing for some time.

Whether it's signing a new quarterback, hiring a new head coach or some other big personnel move, change feels inevitable on the shores of Lake Erie.

What's Next?

The Browns and Steelers both return to action Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. Pittsburgh hits the road to face off with the Baltimore Ravens, while Cleveland hosts the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.