Steelers put unbeaten mark on line vs. rested Washington
Washington will be the latest team with a shot at handing the Steelers their first loss when the teams meet Monday in Pittsburgh, but that scenario almost didn’t happen.
Not because of a fluid schedule — the game was pushed back, but only by a day — or because Washington (4-7) isn’t expected to beat Pittsburgh.
It’s because the Steelers (11-0) feel lucky to still be unbeaten and to be a win away from clinching a playoff spot after what they considered a subpar performance Wednesday in a 19-14 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers, facing a Baltimore team decimated by COVID-19-related absences, eked out a victory despite lots of mistakes, mostly on offense — turnovers, dropped passes, red-zone flops and a general level of play that coach Mike Tomlin described as “junior varsity.”
“We learned those lessons and we learned those lessons with a victory, and we’re appreciative of that,” Tomlin said of getting away with a sloppy game.
Pittsburgh could take out any lingering frustration on Washington, although the Steelers are coming off their first game in which they didn’t reach 24 points and will be facing the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense.
The upcoming contest was originally scheduled for Sunday but was pushed back a day after Pittsburgh’s game against Baltimore was postponed three times and finally played Wednesday because of COVID-19 issues.
Three Steelers starters who missed the win against the Ravens — center Maurkice Pouncey, running back James Conner and defensive end Stephon Tuitt — remained on the reserve/COVID-19 list as of Thursday.
Adding injury to illness and insult for the Steelers, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, a top pass rusher, left Wednesday’s game late and is out for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Alex Highsmith is expected to replace Dupree.
Washington has been off since a 41-16 win over Dallas on Thanksgiving. That will be 11 days between games, compared with five days between games for Pittsburgh.
“We realize that Washington doesn’t care about our problems, or they’re glad that we have them,” Tomlin said of the disparity in preparation time.
The switch to Monday comes through no fault of Washington’s, but flux and change have been common this season as the NFL deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You’ve got to talk about it,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s really the only thing we’ve done is talk about the situation we’re in and try to make sure guys understand how important it is to be adaptable. That’s the biggest thing.”
With the extended gap between games, Washington appears fairly healthy. No players were listed as missing practice Thursday.
Washington has won two straight games and is 3-2 in its past five.
While its defense has been strong all year, the offense has improved in concert with the emergence of young running back Antonio Gibson and young wide receiver Terry McLaurin — although they will be facing a Pittsburgh defense ranked third in the league.
Those two combined for 228 yards in the win against Dallas. McLaurin has produced at least 84 receiving yards in five consecutive games.
“I think momentum is a very real thing,” Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “It’s just confidence, guys building confidence and feeling good about themselves and continuing to work and grow.”
–Field Level Media