The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter V – The Opening Salvo
The Steelers probably thought that they were being logged a softball when they got the opportunity to open the regular season against the Cleveland Browns, who had only managed to win a single game the year before. Yet the Browns put up two of the toughest fights of the 13 games that they won during the course of the year.
Admittedly, much of the adversity that they encountered in the season opener was of a self-inflicted nature. But a lot of it had to do with adjustments as well. There were a lot of moving parts to take into consideration.
Most notable was the late return of Le’Veon Bell, the running back who skipped the entire offseason first while recovering from a knee injury and then as part of a decision that stemmed from his inability to work out a new contract.
While he only carried the ball 10 times in the game, he gained just 32 yards doing it. He was targeted six times in the game and only caught three passes for 15 yards. In general, he looked like somebody who hadn’t played much football recently.
But at least there was Antonio Brown, who was instrumental in the win, catching 11 passes on 11 targets for 182 yards, and one of those catches—the last one—was a 38-yard lob into traffic from Ben Roethlisberger on second and 12 with 2:47 to play.
That catch essentially sealed the game for the Steelers and allowed them to escape Cleveland with a victory, and without embarrassment. The Browns’ rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, had two of his best games of the season against Pittsburgh’s defense.
And it was Tyler Matakevich, coupled with Anthony Chickillo, who ended up providing the margin of victory. Matakevich blocked the punt on the Brown’s opening drive, and Chickillo recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. The Steelers won by three points.
In a way, it was a sign of things to come for the 2017 Steelers. They would win a lot of games, but it would frequently be more of a grind than many outside observers felt it ought to be.
It also was taken in hindsight—or even, really, at the time—as a sort of symbol of a team that is said to routinely underperform. They should have been able to blow out the Browns, yet they had to count on a big catch from Brown in the final few minutes to put it away.
But at the end of the day, it was a win, and the first of many. In that sense, it was a good start.