PITTSBURGH -- It had to be Minkah.
They made the right plays at the right time all game: Fitzpatrick’s second-quarter fumble recovery for a touchdown, Fitzpatrick’s third-down pass breakup, and two interceptions -- including one by running back Trey Edmunds on a fake field goal.
Clinging to a five-point lead with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining, the defense just needed to make one more.
A minute and a half earlier, they came up with their 13th stop of the game as Terrell Edmunds and Joe Haden guarded Josh Reynolds in the end zone and prevented the Rams wide receiver from connecting with Goff on fourth down.
But the offense, as it did often Sunday, went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, forcing the Steelers’ defense to make one more stop.
On the first play, T.J. Watt came up with a monster sack and forced fumble for a loss of 7 yards, but the Rams bounced back to complete a 10-yard pass to Woods.
On third down, where the Rams had converted just one, the Steelers (5-4) were inches from a stop. Instead, Mike Hilton was whistled for pass interference on Cooper Kupp. A few seconds later, Fitzpatrick sealed it with his fifth pick of the season.
Two drives earlier, Steven Nelson held on to Gerald Everett, keeping him from making up any more ground on third down. It forced a punt, and for once Sunday afternoon, the offense continued the momentum gifted to it by the defense. It chewed up eight minutes of clock in the fourth quarter as Mason Rudolph completed pass after pass to receiver James Washington. Washington, Rudolph’s favorite receiver when both were at Oklahoma State, was his security blanket when it mattered most. He found him three times on the drive for two third-down conversions and a 12-yard pickup.
But the Steelers couldn’t cap off the long drive with a touchdown, instead settling for a 33-yard field goal by Chris Boswell.
But it didn’t matter. That was all the Steelers needed to shut the door on the Rams.
Promising trend: Fitzpatrick made it to the end zone for the second week in a row. This time, he scooped up a fumble forced by Javon Hargrave and ran it 43 yards into the end zone to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead. Fitzpatrick already has four interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in seven games with the Steelers. The last Steelers player to reach all those thresholds in a season was Rod Woodson in 1994.
Troubling trend: For yet another week, Steelers receivers couldn’t hold on to the ball. The most costly came in the third quarter when Vance McDonald dropped a pass from Rudolph that would have put the Steelers in field goal range. McDonald’s drop was the Steelers’ third on third down and fourth of the game.
QB breakdown: Rudolph (22-of-38, 242 yards, 1 TD) played like he got permission to push the ball down the field more, attempting six passes of at least 15 yards downfield in the first half, tied for his second-most of any game this season. In the second half, the Steelers went a long time between pass attempts, but they found a rhythm in the 8-minute drive in the fourth quarter as Rudolph connected with Washington. Aaron Donald didn’t record a sack, but he affected Rudolph plenty in the first half. Donald got into the backfield quickly, forcing Rudolph to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Pivotal play: Hometown legend Donald led a charge by nearly the entire Rams defense to sack Rudolph in the end zone and record a safety. Donald blew by David DeCastro as Clay Matthews got around Zach Banner to bring the quarterback down. The safety pulled the Rams within two points of the Steelers early in the fourth quarter.
Bold prediction for next week: James Conner plays against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. The running back, who’s missed the past two weeks after sustaining an AC shoulder injury against Miami, went through a lengthy warmup on the field pregame. He practiced a little bit on Wednesday, but took a step back in his recovery and didn’t practice the final two days of the week. His long workout Sunday could signal his return for the Browns game.