CLEVELAND—In a game when the Steelers had a hobbled quarterback, lost their star running back, they still found a way to keep the Cleveland Browns out of the end zone and hold on for a 13-9 to finish the regular season 12-4.
As the Wild Card, the Steelers will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos next week. Meanwhile, the Browns finish their season at 4-12 (0-6 in the AFC North).
Steelers’ Coach Mike Tomlin said he expected the defense to come up big.
“It’s that time of year,” Tomlin said. “They’ve got to respond in that manner. We expect them to. We appreciate the fact that they delivered, but that’s the level of expectation, particularly this time of year.”
Troy Polamalu had a key interception and tackled Seneca Wallace in the backfield before he could make a handoff. He also broke up three passes.
“We won, which is the most important thing,” Polamalu said. “But, it’s good to get one before the playoffs. Like coach said before, the teams that have the best shot at winning the Super Bowl probably lost their last game a few weeks ago, so we’ll see how it turns out.”
Rashard Mendenhall went down with a knee injury on the last play of the first quarter and didn’t return. He had 38 yards on eight carries and finished the regular season with 928 yards. His status for next week’s game is uncertain as he was on crutches after the game. There’s speculation Mendenhall might have torn his ACL.
“Potentially, we need to take a look at it,” Tomlin said. “It’s not good, of course, when a guy goes down in open grass not touched by anyone. Experience tells me that generally, that’s not good.”
Isaac Redman stepped in for Mendenhall and rushed 19 times for 92 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on a seven-yard run in the third quarter. However, Redman fumbled the ball away twice to the Browns in the fourth quarter. Redman was replaced late in the game by rookie John Clay, who had nine carries for 31 yards.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played on a gimpy ankle after missing last week’s win over the Rams. He still managed to complete 23 passes in 40 attempts for 221 yards to nine different receivers.
“I feel awesome,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m still standing here.”
The game was played in some wintry weather conditions with rain, snow and winds gusting over 40 miles per hour during the contest.
However, it was the defense that stepped up and led the Steelers to victory.
Polamalu intercepted Wallace at the Browns’ 43 and that lead to Redman’s touchdown. Wallace tried to throw to Evan Moore, but Polamalu stepped in front of Moore for the interception.
“Got lucky, I guess,” Polamalu said. “They just had a flat curl route and I was just going wherever the ball was going.”
Wallace said he wished he could’ve had that one back.
“It was a contested play and Troy made a good play,” Wallace said. “I probably shouldn’t have thrown it.”
Wallace finished just 16-of-41 for 177 yards and a rating of 42.4.
Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for nine yards and then a 10-yard run by Redman moved the Steelers to the Browns’ 24. Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 11 yards. After an offside penalty on Jabaal Sheard, Redman scored over right guard to make it 13-6.
Ward caught five passes, including his 1,000 of his NFL career.
“It’s definitely a huge accomplishment,” Ward said. “All week, I was focused on getting a win, because we still had a chance at winning the division and getting a first round bye.
“I think winning meant more to me than anything, but in the back of my mind I was thinking how great it would be to get 1,000 catches.”
After Redman’s first fumble on a hit by Chris Gocong that was recovered by Eric Hagg on the Browns’ 42, the Browns started on the Steelers’ 43 after a 15-yard penalty on the Steelers. Trailing 13-9, the Browns picked up a first down to the 32 on an 11-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi.
However, Hardesty was dropped for a two-yard loss by Clark on first down and then two incomplete passes by Wallace forced the Browns to punt from the Pittsburgh 34.
Punter Brad Maynard’s punt put the Steelers at the 15 with 10:08 to play and a subsequent holding penalty on Weslye Saunders moved the Steelers to the seven. After setting up a third-and-9, Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Jericho Cotchery, but rookie Buster Skrine was called for pass interference to give the Steelers a first down on the 26.
After picking up another first down and chewing up the clock, Redman broke loose around right tackle for 22 yards, but he was stripped of the ball by Joe Haden and Mike Adams recovered at the Browns 39 with 5:49 to play.
The Browns picked up one first down but again were turned away by the Steelers and were forced to punt the ball back to the Steelers with 4:59 to play. The Steelers were able to take the clock down to 1:46 before punting back to the Browns at Cleveland’s 24.
With no timeouts left, Wallace was able to hit Moore for nine- and 10 yards, before hitting Carlton Mitchell for 19 yards to the Steelers’ 36 with 22 seconds left. Wallace hit Moore inbounds for 12 yards and Wallace wasn’t able to stop the clock until five seconds to play at the Steelers’ 24.
Wallace’s final pass into the end zone was toward three Browns in Greg Little, Evan Moore or Jordan Cameron, but Polamalu batted it down.
“It was a tough game,” Clark said. “It was bad (weather) conditions. Cleveland played us well. It came down to a Hail Mary and we held them.”
The Browns could not get the running game going as they were held to 28 yards on 12 carries. Peyton Hillis had 10 rushes for 30 yards and Hardesty had just two carries for -2 yards. The leading rusher was Wallace, who had three carries for 44 yards, including runs of 27 and 20 yards on scrambles.
“We did a good job of stepping up,” Casey Hampton said. “They weren’t throwing too well with the conditions and we stopped the run.”
James Farrior agreed.
“I think both teams settled into the running game today,” Farrior said. “It was one of those games where you knew they were going to run the ball a lot, especially with Hillis in the backfield. In these types of conditions you know it’s going to be a run battle and we had to be ready for it.”
In the second quarter, Wallace scrambled from the Steelers’ 31 before he was chased out of bounds at the four-yard line by Ike Taylor. With a first down on the four, Hillis was dropped for a four-yard loss and then back-to-back incomplete passes forced the Browns to settle for a field goal. That was the closest the Browns came to scoring a touchdown the whole game.
“I thought I had an opportunity (to score), but I came up a little short,” Wallace said.
As did the Browns.