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Steelers-Vikings At A Glance

By Mike Ashcraft

The Steelers (1-0) are set to host the Minnesota Vikings (1-0) in Pittsburgh’s 2017 home opener at Heinz Field on Sunday (Sept. 17). Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET. The contest will be televised by FOX Sports.

The contest will mark the 17th all-time regular season meeting between the two franchises dating back to 1962. Minnesota leads the all-time series, 9-7, but the Steelers hold a 5-4 edge in games played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have taken both meetings with the Vikings at Heinz Field, recording a 21-16 victory on Dec. 2, 2001, and a 27-17 win on Oct. 25, 2009.

The Steelers and Vikings last met in the regular season on Sept. 29, 2013, at Wembley Stadium in London. Minnesota handed Pittsburgh its fourth-straight loss to open the 2013 season with a 34-27 win. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell ran for a pair of touchdowns in the loss.

Pittsburgh’s most memorable matchup with Minnesota, of course, came on Jan. 12, 1975, in Super Bowl IX at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. The Steelers earned the first of their six Super Bowl titles with a 16-6 win over the Vikings. Fullback Franco Harris rushed for a Super Bowl-record 158 yards on a Super Bowl-record 34 carries and scored a touchdown in the victory. Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain limited Minnesota to just 119 yards and forced five turnovers.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin spent the 2006 season as Minnesota’s defensive coordinator. The Vikings ranked as the NFL’s best defense against the run that year. Tomlin was hired by the Steelers on Jan. 27, 2007, to become the 16th head coach in the history of the Pittsburgh franchise.

Passing Yards — Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, 383, 9/29/2013; Vikings: Brett Favre, 334, 10/25/2009
Rushing Yards — Steelers: Franco Harris, 128, 11/26/1972; Vikings: Terry Allen, 172, 12/20/1992
Receiving Yards — Steelers: Yancey Thigpen, 141, 9/24/1995; Vikings: Randy Moss, 144, 12/2/2001


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Bryant, Coates, Conner Set To Make Preseason Debuts

2017 Preseason Game #2

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) vs. Atlanta Falcons (0-1)

Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 – 4 p.m. ET Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, Pa.

Television: KDKA/NFL Network (Bob Pompeani, Charlie Batch, Missi Matthews)

Radio: Steelers Radio Network/102.5 WDVE-FM (Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley)

All-Time Preseason Series: Steelers lead, 7-0

Last Preseason Meeting: 2011 (Pittsburgh) – Steelers 34, Falcons 16

For the first time since Jan. 17, 2016, wide receiver Martavis Bryant will suit up for a game for the Steelers when Pittsburgh (1-0) hosts Atlanta (0-1) on Sunday (Aug. 20) at Heinz Field in the second game of the 2017 preseason.

Bryant has hauled in 14 touchdowns over his two years as a Steeler, but he was forced to sit out the entire 2016 campaign after violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a second time in as many years. He was reinstated prior to Pittsburgh’s 20-12 victory over the New York Giants last Friday (Aug. 11) at MetLife Stadium and began practicing again two days later.

Bryant will start for Pittsburgh on Sunday as the team makes its unofficial 2017 debut in front of its home crowd.

“A guy that has worked hard in the offseason,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will not play on Sunday, of Bryant. “A guy that looks ready to go. A guy that still understands the offense and picks it up. A guy that is coming along quickly. I want to be out here, getting better with my teammates and go to battle with them on game day. We work hard in practice, we have fun on Sunday. Now it’s all about putting the work in and getting ready for that. I can’t get complacent. I have to keep working.”

Steelers fans will also be eager to see the debut of rookie running back James Conner on Sunday against the Falcons. The former Pitt star has not has an easy road thus far in his pro career, missing time during the offseason program with a hamstring injury and then during training camp with a shoulder injury.

“He is scheduled to play, and I haven’t thought about utilization of him relative to his circumstance,” said head coach Mike Tomlin of his team’s 2017 third-round draft pick. “More than anything, I’m going to give him as much as he can handle, but I’m going to keep a close eye on that because of not a lot of work so far for him. I’m going to keep a close eye on the conditioning element of it as we see with him. Crawl before we walk.”

Another Steelers wide receiver will make his 2017 preseason debut. Third-year wideout Sammie Coates was finally activated from the team’s Active Physically Unable to Perform List on Aug. 16. He missed almost all of training camp while continuing to recover from offseason knee surgery. Coates, who had an up-and-down 2016 season in which he was forced to battle through a hand injury, will need to prove himself over the next few weeks due to a crowded and talented wide receiver room.

“It feels great,” said Coates of finally being able to suit up. “I was depressed out there on the sidelines watching my teammates work. It feels good to be out there with them. It’s one of those things where you don’t want to be on the sidelines. You always want to be out there with your teammates. It gets to you just sitting there watching.”

Sunday’s contest will provide a great opportunity for the Steelers to find out how far long these three players are and how far they have to go as the 2017 regular season inches closer.


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Preseason Opener Provides Opportunity

2017 Preseason Game #1

Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) at New York Giants (0-0) Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 – 7 p.m. ET MetLife Stadium – East Rutherford, N.J.

Television: KDKA/NFL Network (Bob Pompeani, Charlie Batch, Missi Matthews)

Radio: Steelers Radio Network/102.5 WDVE-FM (Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley)

All-Time Preseason Series: Giants lead, 15-13

Last Preseason Meeting: 2014 (East Rutherford) – Giants 20, Steelers 16

The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans will get their first look at 2017 NFL Draft selections T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Joshua Dobbs on Friday (Aug. 11) as the preseason begins against the host New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

With head coach Mike Tomlin declaring Ben Roethlisberger a healthy scratch and Landry Jones dealing with an abdominal injury that has kept him out of practice, Dobbs will get the ball as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback in his first-ever preseason game.

“I am anxious to compete,” said Dobbs, whom the Steelers selected out of Tennessee in the fourth round of this year’s draft with the 135th overall pick. “I enjoy competing at a high level. Whether it’s a preseason game or in season game, you are playing in the NFL and it’s something I dreamt about for a long time. To be on that stage with the opportunity to compete, I am very thankful for that and ready to go out and compete at a high level. I am ready to go, ready to compete.”

Dobbs set school records for career rushing yards by a quarterback (2,160), career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (32), single season rushing yards by a quarterback (831 in 2016) and single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (12 in 2016) and ranked fifth in Tennessee history in career passing yards (7,138). He has shown an ability to make plays with his feet during training camp, but his accuracy as a passer needs to improve if he hopes to provide the Steelers with a long-term answer to the elephant in the room — the eventual end of the Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh, whenever that may come.

“He’s a bright-eyed willing worker,” said Tomlin of Dobbs. “He appears to learn from mistakes, and I thinks that’s good. He also appears to be able to learn from the mistakes of others, and that’s doubly good. Like a lot of things, we won’t know until we get into a stadium. At that position, you’re defined by how you perform under certain circumstances, and it’ll be good to get him in that stadium on Friday night and watch him in terms of putting his skills on display. This is just the first time out. I’m interested in his game day demeanor, his ability to communicate through circumstances, not only with his fellow players but with his coaches as well.”

Dobbs will look to connect with a fellow rookie in Smith-Schuster, whom the Steelers selected in the second round with the 62nd overall pick out of USC. He totaled 213 receptions for 3,092 yards with 25 touchdown receptions for the Trojans and will aim to follow in the footsteps of his former athletics director, Lynn Swann, who came to the Steelers from USC and earned a place at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“We came in together,” said Smith-Schuster of the bond between himself and Dobbs. “We have more chemistry, just because we came in together in rookie camp and OTAs and training camp. It’s going to be a fun game.”

Watt, whom Pittsburgh made its first-round selection with the 30th overall pick out of Wisconsin, will also suit up for the first time as a Steeler and has seen plenty of work at right outside linebacker in training camp as Tomlin works to preserve 15th-year stalwart James Harrison for the regular season. Watt recorded 11.5 sacks in 2016 — the fifth-most in a single season in school history — and was named first-team All-American by and Sports Illustrated for his efforts.

“He appears to be a one-rep learner,” said Tomlin of Watt. “He’s a quick study. He’s got a great deal of urgency. He’s highly conditioned. I think that helps in the development process. It allows him to absorb a large number of stats, and that’s helpful to him and helpful to us.”

A plethora of training camp injuries will provide some of Pittsburgh’s other youngsters with an opportunity at valuable reps.

Second-year backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney will get the start at center as Maurkice Pouncey (leg) deals with an injury while fourth-year backup Chris Hubbard has seen significant work at left tackle with starter Alejandro Villanueva in concussion protocol. Starting left inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has been out with a hamstring injury, which will open the door for L.J. Fort (third year) Tyler Matakevich (second year) to get valuable reps on Friday. A knee injury to cornerback Artie Burns will provide Coty Sensabaugh and Mike Hilton with an opportunity. The Steelers acquired Sensabaugh, a sixth-year NFL vet, in free agency. Hilton, who went undrafted in 2016 and spent part of last year on Pittsburgh’s practice squad has been dubbed a camp phenom and has led the secondary in both interceptions and pass breakups during camp.

Friday’s game could even prove critical in the case for making the 53-man roster to fourth-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who will get the start with Le’Veon Bell holding out and rookie James Conner still working his way back from a minor AC joint sprain in his left shoulder.

Fans might grumble about preseason games, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has even recently suggested the schedule should be reduced from four games to three or even two. But for the Steelers mentioned above, Friday’s contest could go a long way in both their development and even their chances of keeping their NFL careers alive.

“I have had an appreciation for the preseason going all the way back to my position coach days,” said Tomlin.” I am a lover of football. I believe all of these guys here working have a legitimate chance. The preseason games give them the opportunity to put those skills on display. Not only for us, but for the other 31 teams. This process that is team development, division of labor and team building, I have a lot of respect for and I think the preseason games are a big part of it.”


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Steelers Back In Pads Again At Saint Vincent

By Mike Ashcraft

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned from his scheduled day off, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were in pads for the second afternoon in a row at Saint Vincent College on Monday.

Roethlisberger appeared to be shaking the rust off a bit early in practice, as he misfired on a few passes in the wide receiver-vs.-defensive backs drill. The period once again showcased the matchup of training camp so far with wide receiver Antonio Brown going up against cornerback Artie Burns. Brown got the best of Burns twice for touchdowns.

7 to 84 for six. #HereWeGo

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The defensive backs have been quite physical with the wide receivers throughout camp so far, leading wide receiver Cobi Hamilton to at one point pull a yellow towel out and toss it on the field in frustration after he felt that cornerback Greg Ducre interfered with him on a pass during WRs-vs.DBs.

Speaking of the defense, they looked fast during 11-on-11 and broke through the line twice to stop rushing attempts that led to loss of yards for the offense.

Monday’s practice featured a new drill that pitted the tight ends against the linebackers in a run-game scenario.

“Guys are just working,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s a good atmosphere. It’s a competitive environment. It’s a learning-and-teaching environment. It’s been largely positive.”

Injuries Mount
Quarterback Landry Jones (abdominal strain), defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt (ankle) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (heat related illness) all exited practice on Monday, according to Tomlin.

Tight end Xavier Grimble (heat related illness) missed practice on Sunday but returned on Monday. Rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) continues to work his way back since suffering an injury last Friday. He took a part in a few drills on Monday but was not a full participant.

Rookie running back James Conner (shoulder) was being evaluated on Monday and missed practice. Cornerback Senquez Golson (soft tissue injury) was also out of action after being carted off the field on Sunday.

“No update on when they’ll return,” said Tomlin of Connor and Golson.

Bryant Close To Return?
Wide receiver Martavis Bryant was out on one of the fields at Saint Vincent catching passes on Monday but is still awaiting reinstatement from the NFL.

“None. No development,” said Tomlin when asked about Bryant’s status following practice.

Next Up
The Steelers will have the day off tomorrow before returning to the practice fields at Saint Vincent on Wednesday (Aug. 2). Practice is slated to begin at 2:55 p.m. ET. Campus opens at noon ET.

“We’re encouraging guys to do the things that allow them to remain out here and continue to work,” said Tomlin. “The off day probably comes at the appropriate time. We’ve gotten a lot out of these guys the last few days. The effort has been extraordinary, but that’s to be expected when you’re doing what we’re trying to do here, which is to develop into a world championship-caliber group.”


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Top 10 Steelers-Browns Games Since ’99

By Mike Ashcraft

Rejoice, Steeler Nation.

We are just nine Sundays away from the start of the road to Super Bowl LII. Pittsburgh will open the 2017 campaign with a matchup against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 10.

Personally, I love that the season begins with an AFC North Division matchup. There’s always an extra buzz in the air when it comes to week 1 but playing a division rival just adds a little more importance to the day.

I know, I know. It’s not the same as playing the Baltimore Ravens or the Cincinnati Bengals. Needless to say, the matchups against the Ravens and the Bengals have often provided much more intrigue and drama over the past 18 years. Those games have felt more rivalry-like because, quite frankly, Cleveland hasn’t exactly held up its end of the competitive bargain since reentering the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. Pittsburgh has dominated the series ever since, owning a 31-6 advantage.

Is it polite to kick somebody while they’re down? No. Am I going to do it anyway by ranking Pittsburgh’s top 10 wins over Cleveland since the Browns graced us with their presence with their return to the league in ’99? Absolutely.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jan. 1, 2017 — Steelers 27, Browns 24 (OT)
Pittsburgh truly had every excuse to not win this game. The Steelers were coming off an emotional 31-27 win over the Ravens on Christmas Day that clinched the division and the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. With no way to improve their playoff position, Mike Tomlin wisely opted to rest Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and James Harrison. The Browns, on the other hand, entered week 17 with a 1-14 record and the opportunity to lessen the stench of a putrid first season under head coach Hue Jackson.

Cleveland dominated the first half with more first downs (14-5) and more total net yards (202-52) while Pittsburgh failed to convert on third down and managed just eight rushing yards. However, as the saying goes, Browns gonna Browns, and Cleveland led just 14-7 at halftime.

The Browns had a chance to take a 21-7 lead in the third quarter when Briean Boddy-Calhoun picked off Landry Jones and raced toward the end zone. Darrius Heyward-Bey made the play of the game (and the hustle play of the season) when he ran down Boddy-Calhoun and knocked the ball out of his hands at the 1-yard line, with Jones recovering the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. Pittsburgh then marched 80 yards and tied it at 14-all after a one-yard touchdown plunge by DeAngelo Williams. The Steelers took their first lead of the game with 5:21 to go when Jones hit DeMarcus Ayers for an 11-yard scoring strike, but the Browns sent the contest to overtime when George Atkinson III scored on a three-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left.

Cleveland took a 24-21 lead on the first possession of overtime as Cody Parkey drilled a 34-yard field goal. But wait! Cue up the dramatic NFL Films music because LANDRY FREAKING JONES would not be denied! Facing a 4th-and-2 from the Cleveland 32, he found Ayers for a gain of six. The next play, he struck for a 26-yard touchdown to Cobi Hamilton to win it for the Steelers.

Did I just spend too much time writing about my honorable mention game? Absolutely. Was it a meaningless victory? Pretty much. But, hey, Landry and the second teamers produced an exciting come-from-behind win and sent Cleveland into the offseason miserable. And, for that, this game deserves a note.

No. 10: Jan. 6, 2001 — Steelers 28, Browns 7
The Steelers and the Browns were slated to officially open Heinz Field on Sept. 16, 2001. However, the events of September 11 forced the postponement of all week 2 games.

Pittsburgh entered the rescheduled week 17 contest against Cleveland as AFC Central Division champions with a record of 12-3. With Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca and Joey Porter inactive and starters such as Kordell Stewart, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress playing sparingly, the Steelers still rolled to a 21-point win over the Browns. Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown, Troy Edwards returned a fumble 32 yards to the house for a score and Tommy Maddox connected with Bobby Shaw for a 40-yard scoring strike. The win marked Pittsburgh’s first of 16 over the Browns since Heinz Field opened.

No. 9: Sept. 9, 2007 — Steelers 34, Browns 7
The Tomlin era opened in Cleveland in week 1 in 2007. Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, Willie Parker ran for 109 yards and Pittsburgh’s defense held the Browns to just 46 rushing yards and forced four fumbles — three of which the Steelers recovered. The win gave the Steelers the lead in the all-time series with the Browns. After going 4-for-10 for 34 yards and throwing an interception, Cleveland starting quarterback Charlie Frye was benched and traded to Seattle two days later.

No. 8: Nov. 13, 2005 — Steelers 34, Browns 21
Stepping up in place of an injured Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh native Charlie Batch guided the Steelers to a win over Cleveland on Sunday Night Football. Batch finished 13-of-19 for 150 yards and ran for a score. Ward hauled in eight passes for 124 yards — including a 51-yard wide receiver reverse touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El, a play the Steelers would use again in February to win Super Bowl XL over Seattle.

No. 7: Sept. 14, 2008 — Steelers 10, Browns 6
After finishing the 2007 season with a surprising 10-6 record and narrowly missing the playoffs, Cleveland entered the ’08 season confident it could challenge Pittsburgh for AFC North supremacy. The Browns had a chance to prove it with the nation watching on Sunday Night Football in week 2. With the two teams forced to battle 40-mile-per-hour winds in Cleveland, points were at a premium. Roethlisberger found Ward for an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and Jeff Reed added a field goal with 7:58 to play in the third. Pittsburgh’s defense limited the Browns to 208 yards — including just 53 on the ground. Cleveland managed just two Phil Dawson field goals as the Steelers came away victorious.

No. 6: Dec. 24, 2005 — Steelers 41, Browns 0
The Steelers delivered the Browns a lump of coal on Christmas Eve in 2005 as Pittsburgh throttled Cleveland in a 41-0 shutout on the shores of Lake Erie. Roethlisberger passed for 226 yards and a touchdown, Parker ran for 130 yards and a score and former Brown Quincy Morgan even got into the act by hauling in a 31-yard garbage-time touchdown from Batch to rub salt in Cleveland’s wound. The highlight of the day was Harrison body slamming an inebriated Browns fan to the grass after the gentleman foolishly decided to run onto the field and into the Steelers’ defensive huddle to talk smack. Arguably the most symbolic moment of this rivalry in recent years.

No. 5: Sept. 29, 2002 — Steelers 16, Browns 13 (OT)
Sitting at 0-2 entering week 4, the Steelers were in desperate need of a win as the Browns came to Heinz Field. Cleveland broke a six-all tie to start the fourth quarter as Jamel White scored from four yards out to give the Browns a 13-6 edge. Stewart’s struggles through the first two games of the 2002 season continued. He had the Steelers driving for a score on the ensuing possession but threw an interception to Robert Griffith, which effectively ended his career as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. Bill Cowher turned to Maddox, his backup quarterback who had taken a journeyman’s road back to the NFL after briefly selling insurance and playing in both the XFL and Arena League before suiting back up. After Cleveland’s offense stalled on its next drive, Maddox connected with Burress for a 10-yard touchdown with 2:05 left, sending the contest to overtime. Pittsburgh won the coin toss and received the overtime kickoff, but Maddox promptly threw an interception to André Davis on the first play of the extra period, giving the Browns the football on the Steelers’ 34. Cleveland could not pick up a first down and was forced to settle for a 45-yard Dawson field goal attempt, which fell short, giving Pittsburgh new life. On the ensuing drive, Maddox completed five passes to drive the Steelers to the Cleveland six. On 2nd-and-6, Cowher sent kicker Todd Peterson out to try a 24-yard field goal to win the game. Peterson’s try was blocked by Cleveland, but John Fiala recovered the ball for the Steelers at the 13. Peterson then knocked down a 31-yard field down on third down to give Pittsburgh a wild win.

No. 4: Sept. 7, 2014 — Steelers 30, Browns 27
The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points in the first half to take a 27-3 lead into halftime of game one of the 2014 season. LeGarrette Blount ran for a seven-yard score, Roethlisberger hit Brown for a 35-yard touchdown and Bell rumbled for 38-yard touchdown. To add insult to injury, Brown even karate kicked Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning in the face on a 36-yard punt return in the second quarter (another symbolic moment in this rivalry). The Browns did not go quietly, though, stunning the Heinz Field crowd by scoring 24 unanswered to tie the game after a pair of Isaiah Crowell touchdown runs and a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Travis Benjamin. The Steelers and the Browns traded four-straight punts until Pittsburgh got the ball back with 47 seconds to go. Roethlisberger found Markus Wheaton for gains of 11 and 20 yards to put the ball on the Cleveland 24, setting up Shaun Suisham for a 41-yard game winning field goal.

No. 3: Nov. 11, 2007 — Steelers 31, Browns 28
This exciting win at Heinz Field helped the Steelers clinch to the 2007 AFC North crown in their first season under the leadership of Tomlin. Pittsburgh had to rally back from a 21-6 second-quarter deficit after Derek Anderson threw three first-half touchdown passes to Kellen Winslow, Lawerence Vickers and Braylon Edwards. Roethlisberger pulled the Steelers to within five after finding Ward for a 12-yard third-quarter touchdown, then gave Pittsburgh a 24-21 lead by scrambling 30 yards for a go-ahead score in the fourth. On the ensuing kickoff, Cleveland returner Joshua Cribbs dropped the football, picked it up, dusted it off and raced 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Browns back in front, 28-24, with 11:14 to go. The Steelers got the ball back, and Roethlisberger calmly drove them 78 yards in 14 plays on a drive that covered 8:01 and ended in a two-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller to put Pittsburgh back in control. Pittsburgh’s defense forced Cleveland to three-and-out on the next drive, but the Steelers had to give the ball back to the Browns after Cleveland made Pittsburgh punt with two minutes left. Anderson found Joe Jurevicius for 16 yards and Winslow for 13 as the Browns drove to the Pittsburgh 35. Facing a 4th-and-7 with 10 seconds left, Cleveland sent Dawson on to a try a game tying 52-yard field goal, but his try came up short and the Steelers came away with a big come-from-behind win.

No. 2: Jan. 5, 2002 — Steelers 36, Browns 33 (AFC Wild Card Playoff)
The only playoff matchup between the Steelers and Browns since Cleveland’s return to the NFL was insane. The Browns sent many fair-weather Steelers fans scampering for the Heinz Field exits in the third quarter when Dennis Northcutt hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Holcomb to give Cleveland a stunning 24-7 lead over Pittsburgh. But wait! As I stated earlier, Browns gonna Browns. Maddox cut Cleveland’s lead to 10 with a six-yard touchdown pass to Burress. A 24-yard Dawson field goal gave the Browns a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Maddox connected with Jerame Tuman for a three-yard scoring strike on the next drive to make it a 10-point game again. Unfortunately, Holcomb threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Andre’ Davis on Cleveland’s ensuing drive to give the Browns a 33-21 lead. Perhaps Browns were not going to Browns? Think again! Maddox and the Steelers put together a 10-play, 77-yard drive in just 2:24, culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to Ward to make it a five-point game. At this point, the schlubs who abandoned the Steelers in the third quarter were trying to bust back into Heinz Field to witness an epic comeback. Pittsburgh’s defense forced Cleveland to punt on the next drive with 2:35 to go. Maddox calmly guided the Steelers back down the field by completing passes of 24 yards to Burress, 10 yards to Ward, 17 yards to Burress and seven yards to Ward. That set the stage for a three-yard touchdown run right up the gut by Fuamatu-Ma’afala to give the Steelers a one-point edge with 58 seconds left. Cowher opted to go for two, and the Steelers took a three-point lead when Randle El completed a two-point conversion pass to Tuman. Cleveland got the ball back at its own 24 with 50 seconds left, and Holcomb could only manage to get them to the Pittsburgh 29 as time ran out, sealing an improbable win for the Steelers. It is my hope that this game continues to cause psychological harm to Cleveland fans to this day.

No. 1: Sept. 12, 1999 — Steelers 43, Browns 0
Admittedly, it was difficult for me to rank the playoff win No. 2 on this list. However, I just had to give the No. 1 nod to the game that (re)started it all with these bitter, old AFC rivals. Sept. 12, 1999. The city of Cleveland was unbelievably hyped. The Browns were back after a three-year absence! The first game was against the rival Steelers on Sunday Night Football in a brand-new stadium! Drew Carey was in the house! All the Steelers proceeded to do was absolutely stomp the Browns on their opening night party. Richard Huntley was the star of the show, scoring three touchdowns as Pittsburgh blanked Cleveland in a 43-point shellacking. Yes, the Browns were back. But, the Steelers were also back, to dominating their turnpike rivals on a regular basis.



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Long-Term Deal Advantageous For Both Villanueva, Steelers

By Mike Ashcraft

The time is now for the Pittsburgh Steelers and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to agree to terms to a long-term contract, ensuring the blindside protection of the franchise’s most valuable asset — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Villanueva has traveled an interesting and inspiring road to the starting lineup of a solid Steelers’ offensive line.

The son of a Lieutenant Commander in the Spanish Navy, Villanueva started 24 of the 28 games he played in at Army (2006-09). He saw action at left tackle, the defensive line and even wide receiver. After serving three tours in Afghanistan as an active member of the U.S. Army from 2010-13, Villanueva returned to the gridiron in 2014. He joined Pittsburgh’s practice squad after he was signed and released as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Villanueva played in 18 games in 2015 and cracked the starting lineup in 12 of them. He started all 19 games (16 regular season, three postseason) for the Steelers in 2016, helping to guide Pittsburgh to an AFC North Division title and an AFC Championship Game appearance. According to Pro Football Focus, Villanueva graded out as the 24th-best tackle after ranking 49th in 2015. He played in more snaps (1,276) than any other tackle and was fourth in pass block-efficiency from week 12 through the playoffs, surrendering just one sack and 12 pressures.

Now, with the Steelers poised to make a run at a ninth Super Bowl appearance in 2017, Villanueva finds himself without a contract. He chose to decline Pittsburgh’s $615,000 exclusive rights free agent tender and was only able to participate in the Steelers’ organized team activities and minicamp after signing a waiver.

The Steelers have Villanueva in a tough spot. As Bob Labriola of noted, Villanueva stands to make more money by agreeing to a long-term deal. If he chose to play year-to-year, Pittsburgh could potentially slap the franchise tag on him and control his rights for the next three years before he would become an unrestricted free agent. It would be a risk to bet on himself cashing a bigger contract as a then-32-year-old. It absolutely behooves Villanueva and his agent to nail down a long-term contract with the Steelers before training camp opens at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe on July 27.

After being in flux for some of the prime years of Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers have finally assembled an offensive line worthy of protecting their signal caller. Center Maurkice Pouney and right guard David DeCastro are Pro Bowlers and right tackle Marcus Gilbert is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Left guard Ramon Foster is extremely solid, and now Villanueva has developed into the type of tackle who can be trusted to keep Roethlisberger upright. The unit allowed just 21 sacks last year — second-best in the NFL. Villanueva is owed for much of that success.

It’s time to reward Villanueva with a long-term contract that will be beneficial to both him, and, most importantly, his quarterback.