There weren't any problems finding defensive plays to highlight from the Cleveland Browns' 14-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I saw an intensity from Cleveland's defense that I hadn't seen all season, and although there are no moral victories, I think we were very pleased on an overall scale with how the defense responded after getting gashed on the ground by the Baltimore Ravens several days earlier. Here is a list of five defensive plays that stood out to me from the Browns vs. Steelers game, in the order in which they took place during the game.
1. Take a Seat on the Bench, Hines......and just stick to dancing from now on. Ward has taken a back seat to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, among others, this year. Was he going to make an impact against the Browns like he's done in the past, only to put that goofy smile on his face? No. This time, Ward had a grimace on his face after he went to the sideline following a fumble. The fumble came when the Steelers were appearing ready to roll over the Browns' defense in the first quarter. Trying to get more yards on a quick pass, Kaluka Maiava got credit for the strip, but I think Sheldon Brown made the impact with his hit and ensuing recovery.
2. HEAAAAAAAATTTTTTHHHHH...(silence ensues): What a wild sequence of events that transpired. After Ward's fumble, Colt McCoy threw an interception and the Steelers took over ten yards away from the end zone. The pass went to tight end Heath Miller in the flat, and the crowd began their chant of "Heaaaathh," and there's nothing better than seeing Joe Haden come up and pop his helmet squarely on the football, have the football be loose, and have D'Qwell Jackson dive on top of it while the crowd is still in the midst of their chant. After these two fumbles, the defenders were going for the football the rest of the game.
3. Down Goes Roethlisberger: We've seen Ben Roethlisberger break loose from tackles so many times, but Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering combined to give us a sight to remember: Roethlisberger writhing in pain toward the end of the second quarter as he grabbed the lower part of his leg and had to be helped off the field and into the locker room. Although Roethlisberger "miraculously" came back in the second half, it affected the Steelers' offense the rest of the game and gave Cleveland's offense more than enough time to try to point some points on the board (which they did not).
4. Gocong Pops Mendenhall: Linebacker Chris Gocong certainly has those spurts of brilliance, doesn't he? I'm only highlighting one play here, but really it was a span of four plays for him that made it all-the-more-impressive. After the Steelers had a Mike Wallace touchdown reversed and brought back to the two-yard line, Pittsburgh still had four downs to go to get two yards. On 1st-and-goal, Gocong set the tone with a pop on Rashard Mendenhall that sent him flying. It was probably one of the best-looking "hits" on the defense this season, maybe second to Mike Adams' hit on...(Owen Daniels?) earlier this season, or even Haden's pop on Miller from earlier in the game.
5. Adams With the Read, Pick, and Return: The final play came mid-way through the fourth quarter. On a third down play, I thought Mike Adams did a great job dissecting the play and dropping back into the zone where the tight end Miller ended up being. Adams intercepted Roethlisberger's pass and returned it 29 yards, setting up the Browns' offense with great field position and a chance to win the game. Adams' interception should have led to Cleveland's game-winning score.
We might not see five high-impact plays of this magnitude in one game for awhile, so I'll still cherish the performance from this game for awhile.