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Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Upset by Alex Smith, WFT for 1st Loss of Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2020

Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) gets off a pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Barry Reeger/Associated Press

Alex Smith's storybook 2020 NFL season continued as the Washington Football Team handed the Pittsburgh Steelers their first loss.

Washington came away a 23-17 victor Monday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The result moves Washington into a tie with the New York Giants for the best record (5-7) in the NFC East. The Giants own the tiebreaker, though, thanks to their two head-to-head wins.

A 50-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to James Washington helped give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead with 3:54 left in the second quarter.

NFL @NFL

50 YARDS. @JamesWashington breaks a tackle and he's GONE. #HereWeGo 📺: #WASvsPIT on FOX 📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/aauV5qKucT https://t.co/OuGNAW2TLN

Washington slowly chipped away at the advantage until Alex Smith hit Logan Thomas on a 15-yard throw at the 9:09 mark of the fourth quarter to tie things up at 17.

NFL @NFL

Alex Smith to Logan Thomas! #WashingtonFootball has tied the game with 9:09 remaining. 📺: #WASvsPIT on FOX 📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/aauV5qKucT https://t.co/BjURHLahDn

Dustin Hopkins broke the deadlock with a 45-yard field goal with 2:07 remaining in the game. On the first play Pittsburgh's next drive, Montez Sweat batted a Roethlisberger pass at the line of scrimmage, and the ball fell into the arms of Jon Bostic.

NFL @NFL

INTERCEPTED. #WashingtonFootball takes over. 📺: #WASvsPIT on FOX 📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/aauV5qKucT https://t.co/IJcD4pM1H8

Hopkins hit another field goal to make it a six-point game and leave 17 seconds on the clock for the Steelers. Eric Ebron hauled in a 22-yard pass as time expired to end the game.

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Notable Performers

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: 33-of-53, 305 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Benny Snell, RB, Steelers: eight carries, five yards; two receptions, five yards

James Washington, WR, Steelers: two receptions, 80 yards, one touchdown

Alex Smith, QB, Washington: 31-of-46, 296 yards, one touchdown

Peyton Barber, RB, Washington: 14 carries, 23 yards, one touchdown

Logan Thomas, TE, Washington: nine receptions, 98 yards, one touchdown

           

Smith Perseveres to Lead Upset

His final numbers were very good, and he came out on the winning end. But Monday was not a fun night for Smith.

He lost his starting running back, Antonio Gibson, to a toe injury in the first quarter. Later in the first half, Washington center Chase Roullier inadvertently backed into the left leg of Smith, opening up what looked like a nasty cut.

FOX Sports: NFL @NFLonFOX

Alex Smith bleeding around his left ankle. He appeared to be "cleated" on previous drive. It is not his surgically repaired leg. https://t.co/0nUNky71GZ

The Steelers also succeeded in nullifying Terry McLaurin completely. McLaurin's 14 receiving yards were a season low.

Will Graves @WillGravesAP

Terry McLaurin is on his way to being one of the top 5ish receivers in the NFL and Sutton and Haden have locked him up much of the day. He is dealing w/an injury, but still. Very quiet.

Grant Paulsen @granthpaulsen

Teams have tried to take Terry McLaurin out of the game all season long. The Steelers are the first team that has successfully done so. 6 targets, 2 catches, 14 yards through three quarters.

With McLaurin cut off from his quarterback, the opportunity arose for Thomas to enjoy a career night as he became one of Smith's preferred options. The 29-year-old has endured a long road in the NFL before becoming a consistent target in Washington's passing game.

Andrew Siciliano @AndrewSiciliano

By my count, Logan Thomas was cut or waived 14 times. Persistence pays off. He’s turned into a darn good player.

Dan Duggan @DDuggan21

Logan Thomas, then a QB, was cut and re-signed from the Giants’ practice squad seven times between Week 1 and Week 12 of the 2016 season. Often times, he’d sign and get cut a day or two later. Quite a journey to solid NFL tight end.

If you knew before the game that Gibson would get hurt and McLaurin would be limited to two catches, you'd probably assume the Steelers would coast to a straightforward win. Instead, Washington hanged around in the first half and put on a dominant defensive display in the second half.

The NFC East has been the butt of a lot of jokes this season for obvious reasons. But Washington is now riding a three-game winning streak and looks like a team nobody will want to play in the Wild Card Round should it reach the postseason.

              

Sloppy Receiver Play Continues to Dog Steelers Offense

The mileage might be starting to add up for Pittsburgh. The Steelers' bye came all the way back in Week 4, and they were working on a short week—despite this game getting moved back by one day—thanks to the multiple postponements to their Week 12 encounter with the Baltimore Ravens.

Having said that, fatigue doesn't totally explain why Steelers receivers are having trouble with dropped passes.

Steven Ruiz @theStevenRuiz

Has anyone studied where drops occur on the field? Wouldn't be surprised if it was short over the middle, where linebackers are lurking, which might explain why the Steelers receivers are dropping so many passes this season.

Mark Kaboly @MarkKaboly

6 clean drops, 1 contest drop today by Steelers receivers/tight end. That's 16 in the past 7 quarters.

Brooke Pryor @bepryor

The drop numbers are as bad as you think: The Steelers have dropped 5 passes in back-to-back games. They had dropped 5 passes twice in the last 15 seasons prior to this stretch, per @ESPNStatsInfo.

Brooke Pryor @bepryor

The Steelers have 7 drops tonight, their most in the last 15 seasons and most in the NFL this season, per @ESPNStatsInfo

More concerning, the running game was almost nonexistent against Washington. Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr. and Jaylen Samuels combined to go for 21 yards on 13 carries.

In the second quarter, the Steelers had a 1st-and-goal from the Washington 1-yard line. Back-to-back runs by Snell went for zero yards, and Roethlisberger's pass to Jerald Hawkins fell incomplete. On fourth down, Snell went up the middle and was stopped at the goal line.

NFL @NFL

GOAL LINE STOP. Chase Young 💪 #WashingtonFootball 📺: #WASvsPIT on FOX 📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/aauV5qKucT https://t.co/jnPiFbSSb3

A great defense can take a team a long way in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh owns one of the NFL's best defenses. Thanks to an offense that's failing to make the most of the talent at its disposal, the team could nonetheless find itself in serious trouble come the playoffs.

        

What's Next?

Washington will hit the road to play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET. The Steelers will be back in prime time as they play the Buffalo Bills at 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday night.

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