One week after falling flat on their faces in a devastating loss to the Baltimore Ravens putting their 2015 playoff hopes in jeopardy, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded with a 28-12 win over the Cleveland Browns, while getting a little help from their friends up in Buffalo.
The Buffalo Bills knocked off the New York Jets, 22-17, to allow the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed with a trip to Cincinnati or Denver looming next week.
Against the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns, as Antonio Brown hauled in 13 passes for 187 yards and a score, leading the Steelers to a 28-12 win that was much closer than the score indicated.
Early on it looked like the Steelers would run away and hide as Roethlisberger started out 10-for-11 passing, leading the Steelers down the field, but he threw some costly interceptions that gave the Browns excellent field position.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the defense stepped up in a big way forcing four turnovers from Austin Davis and the Browns while also sacking the Cleveland signal-caller seven times in the win.
However, big news out of this game outside of the playoff berth is the status of running back DeAngelo Williams, who left the game early in the second quarter with what appears to be an ankle injury.
If the veteran running back is forced to miss the playoff game next week, it will mark the second straight year that the Steelers have lost their starting running back in the final week of the season, hampering their offensive game plan in the playoffs.
Before leaving with the injury, Williams had rushed for just eight yards on five carries and added 13 yards on two catches.
Second-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint replaced Williams and rushed for 24 yards on 12 carries and added a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter to put Pittsburgh up by 13 points.
Following Brown’s fumble on the opening drive of the game, the Steelers defense stood tall and forced a turnover on downs by Cleveland, which led to an eight play, 70-yard drive that was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger to Heath Miller.
On the next Steelers drive, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Browns safety Jordan Poyer on a pass intended for Martavis Bryant. It appeared that Roethlisberger expected Bryant to settle into the zone on his route, but Bryant kept running which allowed Poyer to undercut the Roethlisberger throw.
Six plays later Travis Coons nailed a 29-yard field goal to put the Browns on the board.
Pittsburgh answered with a strong drive but Chris Boswell pushed a 48-yard field goal wide right, giving the Browns good field position once again.
They didn’t do much with it as the two teams traded punts before Cleveland marched 31 yards in 11 plays as Coons split the uprights on a 39-yard field goal to narrow the Steelers lead to 7-6.
The Steelers then answered with a six-play, 80-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 40-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton, an 18-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Brown and a 17-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Brown to put Pittsburgh up 14-6.
Cleveland answered with a 33-yard field goal by Coons at the half to pull within five points. The Browns were able to get into scoring position thanks to a 47-yard catch by Terrelle Pryor over Antwon Blake down the left sideline.
Coming out of the half, Pittsburgh looked to pull away, but Craig Robertson picked off Roethlisberger over the middle, putting the Browns in great field position once again.
But much like they had all game long, the Steelers defense bailed out the offense as James Harrison stepped in front of a Davis pass in the end zone for a big interception to keep the Browns off the board.
In the shadow of their own end zone, the Steelers marched 74 yards down the field, highlighted by a huge 66-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Darrius Heyward-Bey, putting the Steelers in scoring position.
This time Boswell didn’t miss, splitting the uprights on a 39-yard field goal.
Cleveland answered with a 29-yard field goal by Coons before Lawrence Timmons sacked Davis on the next drive, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Arthur Moats deep in Browns territory.
From there, Roethlisberger scrambled left and found Wheaton in the back left corner of the end zone for the score, putting the game out of reach.
The Browns then fumbled on the ensuing kickoff as rookie linebacker Anthony Chickillo forced the fumble that Brandon Boykin recovered in Browns territory once again.
After driving down to the Cleveland 3-yard line, Boswell drilled his second field goal of the game from 21-yards out, capping off the 28-12 win.
William Gay added a late interception to seal the win for the Steelers, who finish the 2015 regular season at 10-6 after dealing with a large number of injuries throughout the season.
Defensively, Stephon Tuitt led the Steelers with two sacks in the win, while Timmons added 1.5 sacks. Will Allen, Blake and Moats added one sack each, and Ryan Shazier added half a sack.