Pittsburgh produced a superb defensive display to defeat Cleveland 26-22 on Monday in a game overshadowed by a gruesome season-ending injury to Browns running back Nick Chubb.
The Steelers defense snaffled two touchdowns from turnovers, with Alex Highsmith grabbing an interception for a pick six on the first Cleveland play of the game after a misplaced pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Highsmith then forced a fumble from Watson midway through the fourth quarter, allowing Steelers star T.J. Watt to scoop up the loose ball and run in the first touchdown of his NFL career for what turned out to be the winning score.
Pittsburgh’s defense — which sacked Watson six times throughout — then came up with two more big stops in the closing stages to thwart Cleveland’s hopes of snatching victory at the Steelers’ Acrisure Stadium.
“We feed off the crowd, obviously there’s a lot of things we need to correct, but we’ll take tonight and celebrate,” Watt said.
George Pickens scored Pittsburgh’s other touchdown of the night, a 71-yard score from a pass by quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The Browns meanwhile were left ruing the loss and a sickening injury to running back Chubb early in the second quarter.
The 27-year-old four-time Pro Bowler clutched his left knee in agony after being tackled by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and linebacker Cole Holcomb.
Chubb — who also suffered a serious injury to his left knee in 2015 during his college career — was carted off the field following the hit, which prompted an outpouring of support from sports stars on social media.
“DAMN MAN! Nick Chubb. Praying for the absolute best,” NBA superstar and Cleveland fan LeBron James wrote.
“Prayers for Nick Chubb, never want to see that,” Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray added.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said Chubb had suffered a “significant knee injury” that was likely to rule him out for the remainder of the season.
In Monday’s other NFL game, the New Orleans Saints continued their unbeaten start to the season after downing the Carolina Panthers 20-17 in a defensive arm-wrestle between the two NFC South divisional rivals.
An attritional battle was locked at 6-6 early in the third quarter, with Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro and his Saints counterpart Blake Grupe slotting two field goals apiece.
But the game was blown open by a moment of magic from Saints receiver Chris Olave, who made an astonishing one-handed catch on third down from a pass by quarterback Derek Carr to keep the drive alive.
The Saints duly capped the 10-play, 75-yard drive with a close-range touchdown from Tony Jones Jr. to take a 13-6 lead.
Although Pineiro cut the deficit with a third field goal to make it 13-9, another Jones touchdown from two yards put New Orleans 20-9 up with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Although the Panthers rallied with a late Adam Thielen touchdown, the Saints recovered the subsequent on-side kick and ran down the clock for the win.