Steelers turn to Cameron Sutton, Sean Spence in clutch
Just six days before Sunday night's Steelers game, Sean Spence was unemployed.
"On the couch," Spence offered, with a smile.
Cameron Sutton, meanwhile, was earning a paycheck — but not for anything he'd done on the field in an NFL regular-season game. The week before against Green Bay, he was in uniform but never was called upon to make his debut.
By the time the game against Baltimore on Sunday was over, though, Spence and Sutton were viewed as something of indispensible parts.
When crunch time came down the stretch of the tight game with the Ravens, the coaching staff eschewed a playing-time rotation at left inside linebacker and left cornerback and stuck with Spence and Sutton.
Just a week prior, that Sutton and Spence would be go-to options for the Steelers when the game was on the line would have been virtually unthinkable. But a combination of unfortunate circumstance, instant opportunity and solid performance led coaches to just that.
"It felt good," Sutton said of being entrusted to play the final two series of the 39-38 Steelers victory. "Felt real good. It shows the confidence they have in me."
Steeler personnel Sun, by Balt possession#-LILB-LCB-result1-Spence-Coty S.-INT2-Moats-Coty S.-punt3-Spence-Sutton-TD4-Moats-Sutton-TD5-Spence-Coty S.-FG6 Moats-Coty S.-TD7 Spence-Sutton-TD8 Spence-Sutton-punt9 Spence-Coty S.-TD10-Spence-Sutton-punt11-(dime)-Sutton-end— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) December 11, 2017
After seeing his first regular-season action during the second half of the Dec. 4 win at Cincinnati, Sutton entered the Ravens game rotating with veteran Coty Sensabaugh. Sensabaugh — promoted to the first team after Joe Haden's broken leg last month — started and played the first two defensive series, with Sutton playing the next two, and so on.
That rotation was held to strictly until the 10th Baltimore possession of the game, one that began with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left in regulation and the Ravens clinging to a two-point lead. By the rotation to that point in the game, it was Sensabaugh's series — yet it was Sutton who played.
Sutton also stayed out there for the final 42 seconds of the game when the Ravens took over at their 25 yard-line, down a point.
"I thought Cameron Sutton came in there and made some significant plays for us," coach Mike Tomlin said of the player who'd spent the first 10 games of the season on injured reserve because of a preseason hamstring injury.
Sutton played 29 of the Steelers' 64 defensive snaps. Though the Steelers allowed touchdowns on each of the first three drives Sutton played, Baltimore managed one first down over the final three possessions in which Sutton was on the field.
During the seven series when Spence was playing Sunday, the Ravens scored three touchdowns, kicked a field goal, were intercepted once and punted twice.
Spence played 34 snaps in his first game since Oct. 1. A former third-round pick of the Steelers in 2012, Spence was cut by Indianapolis two months ago but brought back after Ryan Shazier suffered his spinal injury in Cincinnati.
Spence started 13 of the 31 games he played for the Steelers in 2014-15 — most at the same left inside linebacker spot he played Sunday. He said he kept in touch with his teammates over the past 21 months away from the Steelers.
"It felt good to get back out there," Spence said, "especially with this team. These are my guys and my brothers."
Spence started Sunday's game and alternated series-by-series with veteran Arthur Moats, who converted from the outside linebacker spot, for three quarters. But coaches stuck with Spence for the entire fourth quarter.
"These guys are familiar with me," Spence said, "and I guess (the coaches) trusted me to go out there and perform. I am glad they did."
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.