Steelers beat Browns, fail to make playoffs
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, above, celebrates after scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run that provided Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead over Cleveland in Sunday’s game. At right, San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, left, hugs quarterback Philip Rivers after the Chargers made the playoffs with a 27-24 overtime victory over Kansas City Sunday. After Baltimore and Miami lost Sunday, the Steelers needed a Chargers loss to qualify for the playoffs.
San Diego tight end Antonio Gates, left, hugs quarterback Philip Rivers after the Chargers made the playoffs with a 27-24 overtime victory over Kansas City Sunday.
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers took care of business.
So did Cincinnati and the New York Jets.
And when Kansas City’s junior varsity took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter of its game at San Diego, it appeared as if the Steelers were destined to make the playoffs.
But the Chiefs, who rested a number of starters because the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoffs was secured as theirs, missed a field goal at the end of regulation, then dropped a 27-24 decision to San Diego, sending the Chargers into the postseason and ending the Steelers’ season.
It was a fitting end to a season of near misses and crucial mistakes for the Steelers, who finished 8-8 after beating the Browns, 20-7, at Heinz Field Sunday.
The Steelers finished in second place in the AFC North.
“It sucks that you have to depend on other people,” said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, “but we put ourselves in this situation.”
The Steelers grabbed a 14-0 halftime lead on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery and a nifty 5-yard, spinning run by rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.
All that was left to do after that was scoreboard watching, as Cleveland, which finished 4-12, failed to score until 2:46 remained in the game. By that time, Pittsburgh added a pair of Shaun Suisham field goals.
Cleveland finished the season with seven consecutive losses, something that cost first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski his job.
Reports surfaced just prior to kickoff that the Browns are interested in Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. Chudzinski had been with the Browns for less than one year.
There will be no such turnover in Pittsburgh, despite a report by the NFL Network after a 2-6 start the offensive coaching staff – with the exception of tight ends coach James Daniels – would be replaced after the season.
But the coaching staff kept the team working hard and, as the weeks wore on, the playoffs continued to be a possibility.
The Steelers spent a lot of time watching the jumbotron for out of town scores.
“We were watching,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “If guys tell you they weren’t watching, they’re liars. No question, we were watching. It’s kind of amazing. Last week, things kind of fell into place.”
Head coach Mike Tomlin liked the way the Steelers stayed focused on what they needed to do in their improbable scenario.
“Obviously, we saw the highlights on the scoreboard like everyone else,” Tomlin said. “But that was irrelevant. We needed to be concerned with what was going on in our stadium.”
Lightning didn’t strike twice, and now the Steelers will head into the offseason and the possible changes it could bring.
“I told my guys in the D-line room that it’s always different,” said Keisel, one of 23 players on the roster headed toward free agency. “This will be the last time that we get to stand together in that spot with this group of guys. The way the league is, you change every year, no matter what. It was emotional. I’m just proud to be a Steeler and proud to have helped finish this thing strong.”
The Steelers not only chalked up a win over the Browns, but some individual milestones were reached as well.
Bell rushed for 90 yards on 20 carries and broke Franco Harris’ team rookie record for yards from scrimmage in a season, finishing with 1,259.
And wide receiver Antonio Brown caught nine passes for 87 yards, making him the first player in NFL history to record at least five catches and 50 yards receiving in each of the 16 games.
But it still wasn’t enough for the Steelers to overcome their slow start and second nonwinning season in a row.
“What happens with Kansas City will help define things, unfortunately,” Polamalu said. “But it’s nice that we put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs.”
Linebacker Jason Worilds (abdominal injury) was unable to play so Stevenson Sylvester and Chris Carter rotated at left outside linebacker. … Despite being questionable with a knee injury, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders started and caught two passes for 26 yards. … Cotchery (ribs) and nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) left the game in the third quarter and did not return. … With their second-place finish in the AFC North, the Steelers will host their division opponents, and Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Kansas City in 2014. In addition to their division opponents, they will travel to Jacksonville, Tennessee, Atlanta, Carolina and the New York Jets.