Steelers bottle up Rams, continue surge as AFC playoff hopeful
PITTSBURGH – It figured that to spring another upset on their home turf, the Pittsburgh Steelers would need to put it in the hands of their big-play defense.
Minkah Fitzpatrick picked off Jared Goff with 20 seconds left to preserve a 17-12 victory against the Rams that pushed Pittsburgh (5-4) above .500 for the first time this season.
Fitzpatrick and his teammates collected four takeaways against the defending NFC champion Rams (5-4), and it has become a way of life for a unit carrying an injury-depleted offense. During Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak, the defense has produced 14 takeaways.
Four more things we learned from the Steelers’ victory at Heinz Field:
1. Jared Goff is regressing: After lighting up the Bengals' inept defense in London in his last outing, the Rams quarterback came back with his lowest-rated passing game of the season (51.2). Sure, pressure from Pittsburgh’s defense had much influence, but Goff generally couldn’t come with the clutch throws when needed, as the Rams’ 1-for-14 measure on third downs indicates. And Goff never led the Rams to the end zone.
2. You can only hope to contain Fitzpatrick: A week after returning an interception 96 yards for a touchdown, the Steelers safety scored on a 46-yard fumble return. It was his third consecutive game with a takeaway, the streak starting with a two-pick night against the Dolphins, the team that traded him away in September to open the door for him to a new world as a roaming playmaker.
3. James Washington had the breakout game Pittburgh has been waiting for: The Steelers’ promising-but-frustrating receiver emerged as Mason Rudolph’s go-to target, sparking memories of the duo's days together at Oklahoma State. Washington caught six passes for 90 yards, with a breathtaking 3-yard touchdown catch thanks to his toe drag along the side boundary. He also made a couple of huge third-down catches to mark his best game of the season.
4. Aaron Donald’s homecoming was bittersweet: The reigning NFL defensive player of the year had a big play that made a difference – he shared the sack with Clay Matthews that resulted in a fourth-quarter safety – and typically wreaked havoc otherwise in his return to his hometown. But the close loss put a damper on Donald’s performance.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.