It was just about the worst way you could end a season. Upset playoff home loss to the Cleveland Browns. Though I’m sure Tyson Alualu and the other 89 players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ have turned the page on last season, he was asked during a Thursday Zoom call to reflect on the final game of 2020.
“It’s tough, man, playing in that game,” Alualu told reporters. “It’s kind of frustrating. Almost like it was kind of the strength of the team and we kind of gave up big runs. Things that we have to look ourselves in the eyes and kind of fix. We pride ourselves in stopping the run and then getting after the passer. We weren’t able to do that, letting Baker kind of get comfortable throwing those rhythm passes…that’s not a good combination.”
At the risk of reliving that nightmare of a game, the Steelers found themselves in a 28-0 hole after the first quarter, the first time that’s happened in franchise history. Pittsburgh attempted a comeback, narrowing the lead down to as close as 12, but the Browns put up 13 fourth quarter points to hold on. Baker Mayfield tossed three touchdowns and wasn’t sacked once. No Steelers’ defender even registered a quarterback hit.
Centrally and crucially, the Steelers’ run defense was a sieve. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for over 120 yards on the ground and three total touchdowns. The Steelers’ defense had no answers and looked simply worn down, a combination of the Steelers’ offense inability to sustain drive coupled with all the injuries Pittsburgh had going into that game. Still, the Browns had a COVID situation and head coach Kevin Stefanski couldn’t even be in the building. So those excuses, clearly, aren’t valid.
Alualu said all he and the team can do is try to improve and not have a repeat performance in 2021.
“We’re here trying to get better as a team. I just know everybody’s doing that. Everybody has that mindset and, trying to make sure that we, come on top of the north and I think that will give us a good chance and put us in a good position.”
The battle for the AFC North crown may be even tougher this year. The Browns had a strong offseason while the Steelers took a step back. The fate of the division could come down to the final two weeks of the season when Pittsburgh plays Cleveland Week 17 and Baltimore in the regular season finale.