Before the Pittsburgh Steelers could get any help in their improbable playoff pursuit, they had to help themselves.
They did just that on a soggy Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, dispatching the Cleveland Browns 20-7 for their third straight victory. The Steelers finished the regular season at 8-8, keeping hopes alive for a return to the postseason pending other results from around the league.
Pittsburgh entered the day needing the Ravens and Dolphins to lose in 1 p.m. starts, dropping them into a tie with the Steelers in the standings. Both did, making the 4:30 kickoff between the Chargers and Chiefs in San Diego the ultimate decider.
If the Chargers win, they will grab the AFC’s second wild-card berth; if they lose, the Steelers will make it despite starting the season 0-4 and stumbling to a 2-6 record at the season’s midway point.
As far as the game at Heinz Field, the Steelers scored on their opening drive to take control against the last-place Browns (4-12), and the win never seemed to be in doubt. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted twice, but he completed 19 of 31 for 179 yards and a first-quarter touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery.
As usual, Antonio Brown was Roethlisberger’s primary target, catching nine passes for 87 yards. The fourth-year receiver, just named to his second Pro Bowl and voted Steelers MVP by his teammates, came up two receptions shy of Hines Ward‘s franchise single-season record, but Brown set a new mark of his own as he became the first NFL player to accumulate five catches and 50 yards in all 16 games.
Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell was also strong, displaying power and elusiveness in equal measure on his way to 90 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Speaking of records, Bell surpassed Hall of Famer Franco Harris for most yards from scrimmage as a first-year Steeler.
Bell scored on a showcase 5-yard run in the second quarter to make it 14-0 at the half; the former Michigan State star spun away from trouble at the line and ran through three Browns on his way to the end zone. Shaun Suisham nailed a pair of second-half field goals to help hold off Cleveland.
The Steelers defense played fiercely in the important moments, limiting the Browns to 6 for 15 on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Lawrence Timmons recorded nine and eight tackles, respectively. Timmons, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward each sacked Cleveland quarterback Jason Campbell once.
Notes: Brown finished the season with 110 receptions for 1,499 yards, the latter of which broke Yancey Thigpen‘s 1997 single-season record…Attendance on the chilly, rainy day was