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The Pittsburgh Steelers spent three months flirting with perfection, insisting all the time they were far from flawless.
They weren't wrong. Pittsburgh's bid for an unbeaten season is over. Washington's bid for an unlikely division title may just be beginning.
Alex Smith threw for 296 yards and a touchdown, Dustin Hopkins kicked a tiebreaking 45-yard field goal with 2:04 remaining, and Washington beat the Steelers 23-17 on Monday night.
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Pittsburgh (11-1) missed a chance to clinch a playoff berth and dropped into a tie with defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City for the top spot in the AFC with four games remaining. A day after the New York Giants pulled an upset in Seattle, Washington (5-7) kept pace by rallying from 14 points down to win in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1991.
Washington won the Super Bowl that season. The club's expectations this year are far more modest in Ron Rivera's first season as coach.
Not so in Pittsburgh, which got off to the best start in the franchise's 87-year history even as the offense occasionally worked in fits and spurts. In a game pushed back a day due to a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the NFL to re-schedule Baltimore's annual visit to Heinz Field three times, the little mistakes Pittsburgh managed to get away with for 11 games became too much to overcome.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but was picked off by Jon Bostic — a former Steeler — with 1:59 remaining. Hopkins added another 45-yard field goal to help close it out.
Pittsburgh reached midfield on its final possession but time ran out.
The Steelers appeared to be in firm control after Roethlisberger found James Washington for a 50-yard touchdown in the second quarter that put them up 14-0. Pittsburgh is normally invincible at Heinz Field when up two scores. Not this time.
Smith, under heavy pressure much of the night, finally got something going late in the first half. A Hopkins field goal got the team on the board in the final seconds. A 1-yard touchdown run by Peyton Barber midway through the third quarter pulled Washington within 14-10, and a lob from Smith to a wide-open Logan Thomas for a 15-yard touchdown tied it.
Pittsburgh drove into field goal range but rather than have fill-in Matthew Wright — promoted from the practice squad due to an injury to Chris Boswell — attempt a 45-yard field goal into the open end at Heinz, the Steelers went for it. Roethlisberger's heave to rookie running back Anthony McFarland Jr. fell incomplete and Smith calmly drove Washington 45 yards in nine plays to set up the winning score.
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Washington: Lost leading rusher Antonio Gibson in the first half with a toe injury. Tight end Tamarrrick Hemingway exited in the first half with a wrist injury.
Steelers: Inside linebacker Robert Spillane, who inherited the job when Devin Bush's season ended with a knee injury in October, went to the locker room in the third quarter with a knee injury and did not return. Cornerback Joe Haden left in the fourth quarter with a possible concussion.
Washington: Travels to Arizona next week to take on the San Francisco 49ers in a game relocated due to COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara, California, the site of Levi's Stadium.
Steelers: Face a stiff test next Sunday night in Buffalo. The Bills beat the Steelers — minus Roethlisberger — 17-10 at Heinz Field last December to lock up a playoff berth.
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