Mike Tomlin and the Steelers didn't blink. With pretty much everyone in Pittsburgh already criticizing the coach on social media, Tomlin and his team forged ahead despite the loss of Chris Boswell, the Steelers former Pro Bowl kicker who left the game after getting knocked to the ground on a fake field goal attempt at the end of the first half.
With no kicker for an entire half, the Steelers overcame a 10-3 deficit to defeat a Browns team who opened the calendar year with a win over the Steelers in the wild card round of the playoffs. And while Sunday's win was merely a Week 8 contest, it undoubtedly served as vindication for the Steelers, who in victory may have found their identity. Using a physical defense and balanced offensive attack, Pittsburgh left Cleveland with a 15-10 victory and a 4-3 overall record. After a 1-3 start, the Steelers are very much in the thick of things in the AFC North race.
Let's take a look at the Steelers whose stock rose and fell during Sunday's game. While they won't be mentioned below, shout-outs are in order for Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Najee Harris and Diontae Johnson, players whose stock was already up entering Sunday's game. Heyward and Watt were Pittsburgh's best two defenders on Sunday, while Harris and Johnson were Pittsburgh's most productive skill players.
Stock up: Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger grew up idolizing John Elway, whose legacy as a player includes his three wins over the Browns in AFC Championship games. Roethlisberger's name stands alongside Elway as the quarterbacks who have most tormented the Browns and their fans. A native of Findlay, Ohio, Roethlisberger is now 12-2-1 all time at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Sunday was Roethlisberger's best performance of the season thus far. Along with completing nearly 65% of his throws, Roethlisberger played a mistake-free game. He spread the ball around, completing passes to seven of his teammates. He has developed strong chemistry with wideouts Johnson and Chase Claypool, who caught 10 of his 22 completions. Roethlisberger also utilized tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry, who caught a combined seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger even appeared to convert a two-point conversion, although it was called back due to a penalty.
Roethlisberger is not the spring chicken he once was, but as Sunday showed, the 39-year-old is still capable of helping lead the Steelers to victory.
"He is the ultimate competitor," Tomlin said of Roethlisberger, via Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I think we all kind of mirror him in that regard."
Stock down: Chris Boswell
Wishes for a speedy recovery for Boswell, who is in the NFL's concussion protocol after taking a nasty hit by Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott that should have been penalized. And while Boswell is not at fault for the severity of the hit, it would have been a wise move to throw the ball much earlier in the sequence. Boswell is one of the Steelers' most valuable players, and his availability is vital to the team's success. Taking care of his physical condition has to take precedence in those situations, even if it costs the Steelers points.
Stock up: Pat Freiermuth
After a relatively slow start, the second tight end selected in the 2021 draft has become a key part of the Steelers' offense. Over the past two games, the former Penn State standout has caught 11 of 14 targets for 102 yards. He had several key receptions on Sunday but none bigger than his 2-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal with the Steelers trailing 10-9 four minutes into the fourth quarter. Despite solid coverage, Freiermuth managed to pull the ball in while getting both feet inbounds. Expect Freiermuth to continue to play a significant role in Pittsburgh's offense.
Stock down: Pressley Harvin III
He did have a 56-yard boot, but Harvin also had two punts that failed to net 40 yards. His second punt of under 40 yards could have been costly. His 38-yard punt gave the Browns possession at their own 39-yard line with 4:22 left and trailing by just five points. Fortunately, the Steelers' defense forced a turnover on downs before Roethlisberger and the offense ran out the clock.
Stock up: Joe Schobert
The former Brown made one of the game's biggest plays with his forced fumble of Jarvis Landry with the Browns deep in Pittsburgh territory late in the fourth quarter. Along with that play, Schobert led the Steelers with nine tackles that included six solo stops. Schobert is making the impact the Steelers envisioned when they traded for him just before the start of the regular season.
Stock down: Devin Bush
It's very possible that Bush is still not back to full strength a year after undergoing ACL surgery. Regardless, Bush is not having his best season. On Sunday, the former first-round pick fell victim to a vicious cutback by D'Ernest Johnson that resulted in a 10-yard touchdown run. Bush finished Sunday's game with just five tackles.
Stock up: Chase Claypool
It wasn't a massive game from a statistical standpoint, but the second-year receiver made several key plays on Sunday. Claypool had catches of 12, 16 and 14 yards on the Steelers' three scoring drives. His most impressive reception was a back-shoulder catch for 16 yards on Pittsburgh's second scoring drive. Claypool also had a 16-yard run on Pittsburgh's final drive of the second quarter.
Stock down: Ohio teams
Sunday was not a good day for NFL teams based in Ohio. The Browns are now 4-4 and in last place in the AFC North following Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh. Also losing on Sunday were the Cincinnati Bengals, who were upset on the road against the previous one-win Jets. With the loss, the Bengals fell a half game behind the Ravens for first place in the North. The Steelers, who are currently sandwiched between the two teams in the division standings, are primed to move up in the standings if they can take care of business at home over the next two weeks. The Steelers play host to the 3-5 Bears next Monday night before welcoming the 0-8 Lions to Heinz Field in Week 10.