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Offense sparking at right time for Steelers

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Methodical drives, a balanced running attack and a vintage Ben Roethlisberger has been the perfect concoction for Pittsburgh's success in recent weeks.
The decision to feature running back James Conner on Sunday’s Gameday Program at Heinz Field was a prophecy that came true. Conner ran for 146 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns.  He was also instrumental in the turning point of the game after the Steelers committed an abominable special teams gaffe.

“I had a front row seat for [Conner’s] college exploits,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not surprised by his talents, play demeanor, or his display of will. Pretty impressive.” 

Cleveland Brown head coach Hue Jackson also credited Conner with a solid performance.

“Pittsburgh revved it up a little bit [in the second half] and ran the ball at us. We didn’t stop the run very well,” Jackson said. “James Conner had a heck of a game.”

After a slow first half, Conner only managed 33 yards on 10 attempts. The Steelers trailed 6-0 after the first quarter but scored two touchdowns to lead 14-6 at the half.

“Things aren’t going to go your way the whole game. That’s why it’s four quarters. We just wanted to stay at it, stay focused, and locked in,” Conner saide. “We knew the splash plays were on the way. We just stayed patient.”

Pittsburgh started to take command of the game early in the third quarter. Bud Dupree was held in the end zone and the Steelers were awarded a safety. They lined up for the free kick but the return team had a lapse of focus and let the ball drop, thinking it was a punt. Unfortunately, a free kick is a live ball and the Browns fell on the gift at the Pittsburgh 24-yard line. 

The Browns pulled to within four points at 16-12 after converting the gift turnover into a touchdown and also pulled the momentum back in their direction. On the ensuing possession the game was still up in the air, but Conner, took matters into his own hands by manhandled the Browns defense.

He tore off a 30-yard scamper across midfield on the first play of the drive. He blasted for a 16-yard run on the next play to the Cleveland 29. Roethlisberger then hit Antonio Brown for a 16-yarder to the Cleveland 12-yard line to put the Steelers in striking range. 

On the next play, Conner banged through the right side and scored a 12-yard touchdown to put the Steelers back in command with a 23-12 lead. After the score, the crowd cheered, “Conner, Conner, Conner.” He accounted for 60 of the 75 yards on the drive.

“I was just doing what I love to do,” Conner said. “The passion and the energy just came out.”

Roethlisberger completed 24 passes on 36 attempts for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He found Conner five times for 66 yards of his total—mostly on check-downs and safety valves. Conner is finding his stride and helping to fuel the Steelers to first place in the division midway through the season.
Ultimately, it has been Roethlisberger’s performance that has helped to vault the Steelers back into contention this season, but Conner is happy to play his part in the equation. 

“I was just trying to be in the right spots for Ben [Roethlisberger] with the check-downs in the passing game and put the ball in the right spots in the running game,” Conner said. “I’m just running hard.”
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