When the Pittsburgh Steelers made safety Miles Killebrew its first unrestricted free agent addition this past offseason, the signing went largely unnoticed. But Killebrew—who has commonly been described as a “top special teams asset” or “special teams ace”—introduced himself to Steelers fans on Sunday by blocking a third quarter punt that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Ulysees Grant. As it turns out, that “splash play” touchdown was the margin of victory in a 23-16 Steelers win.
Ben Roethlisberger: It Was a ‘Team Win’
The special teams touchdown was just one reason quarterback Ben Roethlisberger described the double-digit comeback victory as a “team win,” taking care to note that the offense, defense and special teams all had a hand in the outcome.
But he acknowledged that the offense got off to a painfully slow start, gaining just 55 yards in the first half. He attributed the early struggles to “just settling in,” noting that “we had a lot of first-timers out there and (Highmark Stadium is) a hostile place.”
Roethlisberger went on to tick off the factors that led to a 10-0 first half deficit, including the crowd noise, the windy weather, the Bills defense, and the fact that the Steelers were starting a handful of rookies on offense, including running back Najee Harris, center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr., 2021 first-, third- and fourth-round picks, respectively.
“I’m proud of the guys.… I hate to use a Coach Tomlinism but ‘they didn’t blink,’” Roethlisberger said, kinda funny in the sense that it’s not really a Tomlinism, though it is something the longtime Steelers head coach might say.
“They stood up in the face of not playing well early,” he added, referring to the rookies he is playing with, a group that also includes tight end Pat Freiermuth, who caught one pass for 24 yards. “We didn’t make the big mistake either. That was huge. We didn’t make a big mistake early. We didn’t do what we wanted to do, but we didn’t turn the ball over. We didn’t do anything catastrophic.”
T.J. Watt: ‘I Felt Really Fresh’
Indeed, Pittsburgh’s defense kept a win within reach while the offense found it’s footing. That includes outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who signed a record-breaking contract extension earlier in the week and had three total tackles, with two sacks and one tackle for loss.
After the game, Watt said “I felt really fresh.” The three-man rotation we have with Alex and Melvin is going to be very special. We’re a very unselfish group and that’s why I’m looking forward to playing with both of them.
Even more notable is the performance of cornerback Cameron Sutton, who had five tackles, two tackles for loss and two passes defensed, including a 7-yard tackle for loss of running back Matt Breida, which allowed the Steelers to get the ball back on downs with 13:42 left in regulation.
Meanwhile, the special teams units were able to offset the 75-yard kickoff return the Steelers allowed on the opening kickoff by getting the blocked punt for touchdown.
Equally notable is that placekicker Chris Boswell was three-for-three on field goal attempts and also converted both of his extra-point attempts. It was a great start for Boswell, especially considering that he is working with a brand-new battery in long-snapper Christian Kuntz and holder Pressley Harvin III.
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Better yet, it appears that the Steeler may have come out of the contest without anything more than “the bumps and bruises associated with play,” as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin put it.
There was one bit of bad news on the injury front. Per Brooke Pryor of ESPN, inside linebacker Robert Spillane suffered a shin injury during pregame warmups, which explains why he was inactive.
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