By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH — T.J. Watt scooped up a fumble by DeShaun Watson and returned it 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-22, on Monday night in a game overshadowed by a serious knee injury to Cleveland star running back Nick Chubb.
The Steelers (1-1) beat the Browns (1-1) for the 20th consecutive time at home in the regular season when outside linebacker Alex Highsmith – who returned an interception for a touchdown on the game’s first snap – beat Cleveland left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. off the edge and chopped the ball out of Watson’s hands.
Watt picked it up and raced home as Pittsburgh extended its home winning streak on Monday night to 21 straight dating to 1991. Cleveland allowed an opponent to score two defensive touchdowns for the first time since Pittsburgh did it on Oct. 16, 1983.
The Browns played most of the final three quarters without Chubb, who was carted off the field with what appeared to be his second major left knee injury. He suffered a dislocation and three torn ligaments while in college at Georgia.
Chubb took a handoff from Watson early in the second quarter and reached the Pittsburgh 3-yard line when Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick dove at Chubb’s legs. The four-time Pro Bowler’s left leg bent awkwardly underneath him as he rolled over Fitzpatrick, with his knee being pushed one way while the rest of his body went another.
The injury was so disturbing to watch that a replay was shown just once inside the stadium, and ESPN declined to show replays on its telecast. Players on both teams knelt in prayer while Chubb was tended to by medical personnel.
Chubb, respected by his teammates because, as former quarterback Jacoby Brissett put it, “he’s an All-Pro and acts like he’s on the practice squad,” was taken off on a cart.
Jerome Ford, Chubb’s replacement, ran for 106 yards and caught a 3-yard touchdown pass for the Browns, but Cleveland’s miscues cost it a chance to win at Pittsburgh in the regular season for the first time since 2003. The Browns beat the host Steelers in the playoffs after the 2020 season.
Watson completed 22 of 40 passes for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was also flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct for grabbing the facemask of a Steeler while running. The penalties cut a pair of promising drives short.
The Browns were penalized eight times for 81 yards and turned it over four times, two of which ended with one member of the best edge-rusher tandems in the NFL celebrating in the end zone.
The Steelers avoided their first 0-2 start since 2019 even though their offense continued to sputter. Kenny Pickett connected on 15 of 30 passes for 222 yards, a third of them coming on a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown by George Pickens in the second quarter that briefly brought the Acrisure Stadium crowd to life.
Cleveland still appeared to be in good position when Ford raced 69 yards to set up a 1-yard dive by Pierre Strong that put the Browns ahead 22-19 midway through the third quarter.
Pittsburgh’s offense did next to nothing for most of the second half, leading to chants from the crowd to fire coordinator Matt Canada.
Highsmith’s bull rush off the edge and Watt’s scoop-and-score bailed the Steelers out.
Browns: Defensive end Za’Darius Smith exited in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury. … Cornerback Greg Newsome injured his right elbow in the third quarter.
Steelers: Wide receiver/kick returned Gunner Olszewski went into the concussion protocol in the first half and did not return. … Fitzpatrick left in the third quarter with a chest injury. … Inside linebacker Elandon Roberts exited in the third quarter with a neck injury.
Browns: Host Tennessee (1-1) next Sunday.
Steelers: At Las Vegas (1-1) next Sunday, when they will try to beat the Raiders on the road for the first time since 1995.
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