Steelers enter finale watching, waiting

December 28, 2013
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders celebrates a touchdown catch at Green Bay last Sunday. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Forget about scoreboard watching. The Steelers know their playoff hopes are a long shot.

But reaching an 8-8 record after starting the season 0-4 followed by 2-6 is not.

The Steelers (7-8) need plenty of help today in order to slip into the playoffs as the AFC’s sixth seed. First and foremost, they need to beat the Browns (4-11) at Heinz Field.

If that happens for the 25th time in the past 28 meetings, and Baltimore, Miami and San Diego lose, Pittsburgh will be in the playoffs.

If not, the Steelers can head into their offseason thinking about how close they were to getting back into the postseason.

“It’s a very big game for us,” said Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward. “We’re looking forward to ending this thing. We’ve only got one (game left), hopefully we can get a couple more.

“It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have it. We’ve got to get this (win) no matter what. I’m glad we’re a (1 p.m.) game so we get to see what everyone else does, too.”

Actually, the Baltimore at Cincinnati and Jets at Miami games are at 1 p.m., while Kansas City is at San Diego at 4:30 p.m. But Heyward’s point is well taken. If the Steelers don’t win, nothing else matters.

For Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a win would mean he avoids having a losing record for the first time at any level of play in any sport. But it’s also been a big season for Roethlisberger, who has been on the field for every offensive snap this season – the first time that has happened in his career.

The Steelers have averaged 29.3 points over their past eight games and want to finish the season with a win to propel into 2014.

“I feel like I’m doing pretty good,” said Roethlisberger, who has spent much of the second half running the offense out of a no-huddle look. “I feel like our numbers have started to get better. If you look at numbers alone I’d say that it’s pretty good.”

And pretty good has been a lot better than the feeling when Pittsburgh hit rock bottom following a 55-31 loss at New England.

“It feels good to have people talk about us in a positive manner when there’s so many times during the season they counted us out over and over and over again,” said wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Sanders, who is questionable to play today with a knee injury, and a number of other players could be playing their last game for the Steelers. Sanders is one of 24 players who will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

But even that is on the backburner.

“Right now, I’m just trying to make the playoffs,” Sanders said. “I hope all the teams go out and do what we need them to do and we’ll take care of business at Heinz Field.”

Pittsburgh already owns one victory over the Browns, a 27-11 win Nov. 24 at Cleveland.

But the Browns, who had five players named to the Pro Bowl Friday – the most of any team in the AFC North – aren’t going to be pushovers.

One of those Pro Bowl players, wide receiver Josh Gordon, who had 14 receptions for 237 yards and a touchdown in the previous meeting, said the Browns haven’t mailed in the season despite losing nine of their past 10 games.

“We’re going to take this season as a learning experience going into next year,” Gordon said. “We’re not really sure what’s going to happen with the roster and personnel and things like that. I think we’re in the right spot. We’ve got the right coaching staff and the right mindset to go far from here.”

The Steelers feel the same way.

“We’re always going to strive to be the best we can be,” said Roethlisberger, who needs 247 yards to break his own team record for yards passing in a season. “I don’t think we’ll ever be satisfied. We’ve made improvements every week. That’s what’s most important to us is that we keep getting better and we don’t take steps back.”

Odds and end zones

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown can become the first player in NFL history to record at least five receptions in every game in a season with five catches today. … In addition to Sanders, linebacker Jason Worilds is questionable to play for the Steelers with an abdominal injury. … Running back Le’Veon Bell needs 73 yards to break Franco Harris’ team rookie record for yards from scrimmage of 1,235 set in 1972.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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