Steelers 24, Cowboys 19: Steelers stay perfect with imperfect performance

The Steelers became the first 8-0 team in franchise history with Sunday’s 24-19 win at Dallas.

By winning their first eight games, the 2020 Steelers have done something that none of the Steelers’ six Super Bowl-winning teams have done.

It’s too early to tell if the Steelers will earn a place next to those championship teams. We’re only halfway through the season.

For now, however, the Steelers are proving that they’re a cut above every Steelers team since the 2010 edition, the last one to reach the Super Bowl.

Most Steelers teams of the last decade would have lost a game like this, one against an inferior opponent in which not everything went their way. Steelers fans have become all-too-familiar with such pratfalls, like last year’s loss at the 7-9 Jets, the 2018 loss at 4-12 Oakland and the 2017 loss at 5-11 Chicago.

On Sunday, the Steelers escaped Jerry World with a win over first-time starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert and the 2-7 Cowboys.

There was a lot not to like about Sunday’s performance. The Steelers trailed 13-0 in the second quarter and 19-9 after three quarters against the team that entered the game allowing the most points in the NFL. But remember that this was the Steelers’ third straight road game, with the first two coming against teams with 6-2 records.

Ben Roethlisberger narrowed the deficit to 19-15 with a 31-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster at the start of the fourth quarter.

Chris Boswell pulled the Steelers to within 19-18 with a 43-yard field goal and Roethlisberger put the Steelers ahead with an 8-yard TD pass to Eric Ebron with 2:14 left. Both of those scoring drives were kept alive by Cowboys penalties. The latter should have been a three-and-out but for a roughing-the-passer infraction with four minutes left.

Then for the second straight week, the Steelers needed two defensive stops in the last two minutes to protect a one-score lead.

The Steelers allowed 364 yards of offense, including 144 on the ground at a rate of 4.6 yards per carry. And no, it wasn’t Ezekiel Elliott gaining most of those yards. Tony Pollard ran for 57 yards on just nine carries while Elliott had 51 on 18 carries.

Perhaps this defense should have been more dominating against Gilbert, a 29-year-old who entered the game with six career passes, but the Steelers did allow less than 20 points for just the third time this season.

Minkah Fitzpatrick had a lot to do with that. He intercepted Gilbert in the end zone early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers trailing 19-15. The Steelers drove 75 yards for a field goal. Roethlisberger was strip-sacked during the drive, but that was negated by an illegal-contact penalty.

Fitzpatrick also recovered a fumble with just over a minute left in the first half, which led to Boswell’s franchise-record 59-yard field goal that trimmed the Cowboys’ lead to 13-9 at halftime.

It’s a good sign that Fitzpatrick is regaining his nose for the football. He ended an 11-game interception drought with his pick-six in Week 6 against the Browns and forced a Lamar Jackson fumble with two minutes left last week at Baltimore. And for the second straight week, he broke up what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play.

It might seem like the Steelers are living on the edge by giving teams a shot at a game-winning touchdown on the final play every week, but style points don’t matter when you win three straight road games.

A more disciplined team would have beaten the Steelers Sunday. But as long as they don’t keep playing like a team finishing up a three-game road trip, the Steelers probably won’t have to go on the road at all in the playoffs.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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