Great team win‼️ wasn’t clean but all that matters is we 8-0 🙏🏾🤘🏾— RayRay McCloud III (@RMIII_34) November 9, 2020
This is why they play the games, as evidenced in how the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves barely surviving a back alley brawl with the Dallas Cowboys -- walking away with a narrow 24-19 victory in Arlington, Texas. Despite entering as 14.5-point underdogs to the mighty Steelers, the Cowboys mostly shut down an opponent they were predicted to lay down and die to. Instead, having been named starter just one day prior, Garrett Gilbert (overall) showed an ability to deliver both the timely dime and so much-needed escapability -- out-producing both Ben Roethlisberger and the entire Steelers running back unit in the first half.
Things began to come apart for him in the second half, however, while they did the exact opposite for Roethlisberger, but it's his defense he can mostly thank for the win, particularly safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Surprisingly enough, it was also the usually beleaguered Cowboys defense showing out as well for much of the game, if not for back-breaking penalties in the fourth quarter that helped push the Steelers to victory in a game that went from being an expected blowout to one of the best games of Week 9. Gilbert was both impressive and not so much, as the Steelers walked away with both an 8-0 record and some humility -- having nearly been the victim of the biggest upset of 2020.
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Why the Steelers won
It's not how you start. It's how you finish.
The latter is what separates elite teams from those who aren't, and the Steelers proved that yet again in Week 9. No one was expecting them to be in a bar fight with the Cowboys, especially themselves, considering they're fully loaded in all phases of the game while Dallas is struggling to find bodies to play football on a week-to-week basis -- at least from an offensive standpoint. But after seeing Gilbert move the ball downfield with relative ease behind a patchwork O-line, it was clear the Steelers would have to wake up, and wake up they did. Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter, but remained in the game long enough to throw four completions en route to a touchdown to James Washington to make it a 13-6 affair (missed extra point).
On the next Cowboys drive, Cameron Sutton forced CeeDee Lamb to fumble into the arms of Minkah Fitzpatrick (who also had a game-changing interception and game-saving pass break up as the clock wound down to zeroes), and just like that, the Steelers scored 10 points in a matter of moments.
They were scrappy at the end of both halves, despite being slow to start at the start of both, because it's not how you st- ... well, you know the rest.
Why the Cowboys lost
Gilbert needs consideration as the Cowboys starting quarterback from here out, because he's not the reason they lost.
If anything, he's the biggest reason they ultimately had a chance to win but, no, that doesn't mean he was without blame. The 29-year-old saw the most action ever in his NFL career, and it showed in some key misses on passes that could've extended drives, and his most brutal error was an interception in the red zone to Fitzpatrick wherein he should've taken the sack -- considering he was already being hugged by the pass rusher. The Steelers turned the takeaway into a field goal to shrink the lead to just one point (19-18) in the fourth quarter, but it's the defense that ultimately cost the Cowboys the biggest upset of 2020.
The irony is, for much of the game, they were also responsible for nearly helping to deliver it, but it's how you finish (ahem), and back-breaking penalties called on linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch extended the drive that led to defensive back Saivion Smith being turned into a human hurdle by tight end Eric Ebron -- who gave the Steelers their first and only lead of the game.
Gilbert nearly orchestrated the game-winning drive to overcome it all, but Fitzpatrick had other ideas, knocking the would-be walk-off TD into the turf to end the contest. And so it was, the Cowboys did more than enough to give the Steelers their first loss of the season, but just enough to make sure it didn't actually happen (like opting for field goals on two separate fourth-and-inches situations).
Stop me if you've heard this before: all Minkah Fitzpatrick does is make plays. This interception helped close the coffin on the Cowboys, setting him up to nail it shut himself on the final drive.
Play of the Game
Eric Ebron left Saivion Smith grazing on turf for what would be the game-winning touchdown hurdle.
"There are no moral victories here. We're here to win football games." - Ezekiel Elliott, via Jon Machota of The Athletic
The Cowboys head into their Week 10 bye week licking their wounds, while the Steelers head home to ready for the rival Bengals.
Catch all the highlights and more from the nail biter at AT&T Stadium in the live blog below.