Every NFL season is filled with remarkable moments and plays. The Steelers' 2022 season was no different. Here is the first of the top five plays or moments of the season for the Steelers.
#3 FINISHING TOUCHES
The Steelers hadn't been above .500 since their Week 1 victory over the Bengals, but they had an opportunity to get there in Week 18 at Acrisure Stadium.
Standing in their way was the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watson had been suspended by the NFL for the first 11 games of the 2022 season for violation of the league's personal conduct policy. The former Pro Bowl quarterback had joined the Browns in the offseason via trade with Houston, but had missed the first meeting with the Steelers.
Nothing like making a good first impression with the new neighbors.
The Steelers welcomed Watson to the division, sacking him seven times and intercepting him twice in a 28-14 victory that also gave the Steelers their 19th consecutive non-losing season, tying the Patriots for the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
"I don't know that it's anything that's mystical or earth-shattering in any way," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of the team's 7-2 finish to the season. "I just think you have to display a certain amount of resolve, individually and collectively, in an effort to have the type of focus that's required, to work every day to get better every day, to repeat the cycle that is preparation, regardless of what's transpired, good and bad, to increase your chances of winning with each opportunity."
The Steelers rushed for 148 yards and Kenny Pickett threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, but the real star of this game was the defense, which pummeled the Browns at every opportunity.
Alex Highsmith had 2.5 sacks to give him a career-high 14.5 for the season, tying teammate T.J. Watt for the fourth-highest single-season total in team history. Watt had 14.5 sacks in 2019.
Cam Heyward also had a sack on the game's final play to give him 10.5 on the season. It marked his third season with 10 or more sacks, the most for a defensive lineman in team history.
He had a sack earlier in the game negated by a roughing the passer penalty that would have gotten him to double digits, only to come back and get Watson on the ground again to end the game.
It also moved him past Watt, who had half a sack in the game, into second place on the team's all-time sack list with 78.5, two behind all-time leader James Harrison. Watt now has 77.5 in his career.
It added a certain sense of closure, as Heyward started the season with a sack on the Steelers' first defensive play of the season and ended it with one on their final defensive snap. Though he finished the season with 74 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and 22 quarterback hits, Heyward was passed over in both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro voting.
• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast
Despite the win, which capped off the 7-2 finish to the season for the Steelers after a 2-6 start, they failed to reach the postseason. Needing a victory and both the Patriots and Dolphins to lose their regular season finales, the Steelers only got two-thirds of that. The Patriots lost in Buffalo, but the Dolphins beat the Jets, 11-6, keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs.
"All we could focus on was winning this game," Heyward said following the win. "Obviously, we needed help, and you never want to give another team control of your destiny. All I will say is I'm appreciative of all the people in this locker room.
"Every coach and every staff member. Through the bumps through the rocky road everyone stuck together and just kept trying to get better."