Tuitt’s injury casts pall over Steelers sloppy opening win

Blogger’s note: Because we’ve started three new divisions of the Altoona Mirror over the past three years (ad agency, ad design center, concert promotion), we are insanely busy and are really going to try and keep these game blogs brief this year.

The score: Pittsburgh 21, Cleveland 18

The bottom line: In a predictably sluggish and sloppy first game (look it up, we predicted it!), the Steelers got the ball to Antonio Brown just enough times to outlast the maybe-improved Browns and their flashy rookie quarterback. In the process, though, they might have lost their most important defensive player, newly extended Stephon Tuitt to a serious biceps injury (that’s usually the only kind of biceps injury there is).

It was over when…: The Browns were better overall, mostly thanks to DeShone Kizer, but they still pulled off some Brownsy stuff, like losing both of their remaining timeouts on a challenge with 2:28 left in the game of a long Antonio Brown reception and then (surprisingly, to us) losing the challenge. When Le’Veon Bell followed with his only big run of the day, it was victory formation time for Pittsburgh.

Play of the day: AB’s catch in traffic was huge, but the difference in the game was Tyler Matakevich’s punt block on the fourth play of the first quarter that stuck and spun in the back of the end zone like a Tiger Woods wedge shot, allowing Anthony Chickillo to pounce on it for a six-point TD that sure looked like it was going to be a two-point safety.

Player of the game: Obviously, the Steelers don’t win the game without Brown so understanding that he could be the player of the game for just about every game, let’s give this one to “The Outlaw” Jesse James, who was termed “not varsity enough” by his head coach just two weeks ago, but somehow managed to snag two TD receptions and make several other key grabs Sunday and even juked a Browns defender (that is not a typo) at one point.

Hot topics:

+ Stephon Tuitt looked to hurt his arm, extending it to make a tackle for a loss. It certainly looked innocuous but that is the nature of biceps, triceps and pec tears, which occur not because of any unnatural motion, but because of a momentary surge of force that overwhelms the muscle. If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know your body would not naturally get strong enough to overwhelm its own muscles, but that’s a topic for another day. Although Pittsburgh’s defensive strategy has evolved since Aaron Jones played, it’s only a slight reach to say Tuitt is as important now as Jones was then. We certainly hope we’re wrong, but we think the Tyson Alualu signing is going to look like a very important move come Tuesday (or when Adam Schefter tweets it Monday evening).

+ J.J. Watt certainly made a splash in his regular season debut, just as he did in his first preseason game, recording two sacks and making an athletic interception. We think it’s a good thing that Watt’s sacks really weren’t “wow” plays but ones where his obvious motor kept him around the ball.

+ Le’Veon Bell wasn’t good. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t good. Martavis Bryant wasn’t visible. None of which should come as a surprise to anyone. You can’t just walk into a professional football game and perform at peak levels without practice, no matter how much physical talent you have. That said, we’d guess all three will take a quantum leap in performance between Week 1 and Week 2.

Zebra hunting:

+ It certainly appeared that a member of Craig Wrolstad’s crew called an illegal hit penalty on Williams Gay AFTER seeing a replay on the stadium scoreboard. The NFL can NOT allow that to go unchecked and unpunished. Not to get melodramatic, but that is a Pandora’s Box that would take pro football down quicker than it’s already going down.

+ We thought for all the world that Antonio Brown’s 50-yard, game-saving circus catch was going to be overturned because he did not get off the ground with the ball, but, of course, it was upheld and review of the NFL 2017 rulebook shows it was a good call as the wording now on a player going to the ground says “he must maintain control of the ball until after his initial contact with the ground” to complete the process of the catch.

+ Also, remember all replay rulings this year are coming out of New York and are NOT being done by the white hat on the field, who simply is the messenger now.

Game mismanagement: Vintage (and hilarious) Mike Tomlin clock mismanagement at the end of the first half, first needlessly calling a timeout when Pittsburgh recorded a first down at the Browns 9 with 1:35 left. At that point there’s plenty of time remaining for three (of four or five, if there’s a penalty or two) offensive plays and the game management goal shifts from preserving time to leaving as little as possible for the opponent. So when Pittsburgh scored three plays later, they left :45 for the Browns, instead of about :15. Then, after a poor kickoff return, the Browns were stuffed on a first-down run and Tomlin quickly called a timeout, which served no purpose to his team, which did not have enough timeouts left to get the ball back because they had just used one needlessly, but did then allow the Browns to pass the football without clock risk on second down, something they couldn’t have done if Pittsburgh hadn’t called its second timeout. Now, this might all sound very convoluted and complex, and it is, which is the exact reason many NFL teams have a game management assistant and why Tomlin desperately needs one.

In the booth:

+ Obviously, the CBS camera crew and producers were overmatched on the Pittsburgh blocked punt, showing viewers the backs of some ball boys then a dizzying shot of midfield instead of the TD recovery by Anthony Chickillo.

+ We’re not sure what Greg Gumbel was thinking when he said in the first quarter that T.J. Watt was in the game, replacing Stephon Tuitt.

+ After the Browns hilariously got a defensive holding penalty on a rushing play, Trent Green was quick to point out exactly how something like that can happen.

+ That was the high point for Green, though, who talks way too much, filling every second of dead air with his voice, which is a surefire way to say a bunch of sill things, which he did.

And now, a word from our sponsors: Wow, that Verizon spot with OBJ and the guy from “Silicon Valley” is bad, like make-you-want-to-switch-to-AT&T bad.

Sweet tweets: @j_a155: Poor Kizer, he was on a roll. (Note: This is a joke you get to make once and Mr. a155 beat us all to it. No more.)

Next week: The Steelers open at home next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, they of the uncertain offensive line, who will be coming in with a day and a half less rest after opening Monday night against New Orleans.


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