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