Steelers defeat Browns and get help to clinch final playoff spot

Steelers Jeffrey

Photo used courtesy of: Jeffrey Beall. (CC) Some rights reserved.

The Steelers defeated the Browns, 28-12, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon to wrap up the regular season with a 10-6 record. Pittsburgh also clinched the sixth seed and will be heading to the NFL playoffs for the second year in a row, thanks to the Bills’ 22-17 upset win over the Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Pittsburgh never trailed and dominated statistically, but thanks to some more sloppy play by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions that set the Browns up at Pittsburgh’s 24 and nine yard line, respectively, the game remained close for three-plus quarters. Fortunately, Cleveland couldn’t take advantage, only coming away with three points on a first quarter interception and zero after a third quarter pick, thanks to the heroics of veteran linebacker James Harrison, who returned the favor by intercepting Browns’ quarterback Austin Davis at the goal line.

For the day, Roethlisberger completed 24 of 36 passes for 349 yards, three touchdowns and the two picks.

Following a fumble by receiver Antonio Brown on their first offensive series of the afternoon, the Steelers took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, when Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller in the end zone for a  two-yard touchdown pass.

With less than a minute to go in the first half, Roethlisberger connected with Brown on a 17-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-6. It was Brown’s 10th reception of the first half. For the day, Brown caught 17 passes for 187 yards to break his own franchise marks for receptions (136) and yards (1,834).

As for Pittsburgh’s defense, after struggling to stop quarterback Ryan Mallett and the rest of the Ravens’ depleted offense one week earlier, Keith Butler’s unit returned to its optimistic ways, forcing three second half turnovers.

Perhaps the most critical takeaway occurred early in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers ahead 17-12. On a second and 10 from Cleveland’s 21 yard-line, linebacker Lawrence Timmons sacked Davis and forced a fumble that fellow linebacker Arthur Moates recovered at the Browns’ eight-yard line. Pittsburgh’s offense only needed one play to capitalize, as Roethlisberger found receiver Markus Wheaton for an eight-yard touchdown pass to make it 23-12. Pittsburgh went for two, and Roethlisberger found reserve running back Fitzgerald Toussaint on a quick slant to make it 25-12.

On the ensuing kickoff, Pittsburgh got the football back, thanks to a forced fumble by reserve linebacker Anthony Chickillo  that was recovered by cornerback Brandon Boykin at Cleveland’s 28.

The Steelers offense couldn’t convert the fumble into another touchdown, but Chris Boswell connected on a 21-yard field goal to make it 28-12 with 7:40 left and all but settle matters. In addition to the four takeaways (three by the defense; one by the special teams), Pittsburgh recorded seven sacks on the day, as the defense limited the Browns to 263 yards and shut them out of the end zone.

On the injury front, veteran running back DeAngelo Williams left the game early with what appeared to be a foot or ankle sprain. After going into the locker room to have the injury checked, he briefly returned to the sidelines in full-uniform but got back in the game. After the game, Williams appeared to be walking around pretty decently while wearing a walking boot, but the extent of the injury as well as his availability for the wild card game has yet to be determined.

Speaking of which, next up for the Steelers is a date at Paul Brown Stadium this Saturday night at 8:15, as they will be taking on the AFC North champions in a first round wild card playoff game.

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