It only took, by my count, 157 plays, but the Pittsburgh Steelers defense finally recorded its first turnover of the season last night against the Carolina Panthers.
It happened on the opening drive of the third quarter when outside linebacker Jarvis Jones beat left tackle Byron Bell for a sack, cutting inside and jamming his shoulder into quarterback Cam Newton’s arm as he threw.
The ball spurted out onto the ground and was recovered by the Steelers’ other outside linebacker, Jason Worilds, at the Panthers’ 17-yard line.
Of course, they ended up paying for it in blood, as Jones injured his wrist on the play and left the game. Head coach Mike Tomlin could only say after the game that both he and Ryan Shazier would be evaluated later on in the week.
But it was worth it, at least in the short-term, as the turnover helped ignite a stagnant offense that had only managed to put seven field goals on the board over the course of the prior six-plus quarters dating back to the waning seconds of the first half of the season opener.
While the offense nearly let the opportunity slip through its fingers after failing to advance the ball more than six yards, the Panthers’ encroachment penalty on what would have been an eighth straight field goal attempt gave Ben Roethlisberger another chance, and he found Antonio Brown in the end zone on the next play.
The offense proceeded to put the ball into the end zone on its next two possessions, but so did the special teams, in between those two drives.
Punting from his own 29-yard line, Brad Wing boomed a punt 59 yards down to the Panthers’ 12-yard line. The distance seemed to throw the returner off, as it hit him right at the top of the numbers as he alligator-armed it.
He muffed the punt and proceeded to pick it up again to advance it, only to have Shamarko Thomas get a hand on it to knock it out a second time. Josh Norman attempted to recover it, but he knocked it into the end zone, eventually recovered by Robert Golden for a touchdown.
That’s two turnovers in a game after going without through the first two games of the season.
In fact, the offense also managed to play error-free in turnovers after relinquishing four through the first two games on two interceptions and two fumbles, three of which came in the Thursday night debacle.
The Steelers were tied for the worst in the league with a turnover margin of -4 last week. They were also well behind in that column last year, when they went 8-8. They managed to cut it in half to -2 after last night. Will this be able to get the ball rolling?