The Pittsburgh Steelers had another close game to finish out the 2011 regular season, but they held on to beat the Cleveland Browns 13-9 Sunday at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started despite his left ankle still not being 100% and threw for 221 yards on 40 attempts. He was sacked twice on the afternoon, but did not turn the ball over in the win. Wide receiver Antonio Brown finished out his spectacular sophomore season by hauling in 6 catches for 90 yards. Brown also chipped in 73 yards on 3 kickoff returns in the game and he went over the 1000 yard mark in return yardage this year. Last week against the St. Louis Rams, Brown passed the 1,000 yard receiving mark.
Veteran wide receiver Hines Ward got the 1,000th catch of his career with his 5 catches in the game. The milestone was reached with a shovel pass from Roethlisberger for negative yardage early in the 4th quarter.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall had 38 yards rushing on 8 carries, but injured his right knee on the last play of the first quarter. The early speculation by head coach Mike Tomlin after the game, is that Mendenhall might have torn his ACL, and he could be out for the rest of the season. Backups Isaac Redman and John Clay carried the load the rest of the game and Redman totaled 92 yards on 19 carries. Redman did however have two fumbles in the 4th quarter that could have proved costly. Clay added 31 yards on 9 carries.
The story of the day was the Steelers defense as they held the Browns and their quarterback Seneca Wallace to just 177 yards passing on 41 attempts. Wallace completed just 16 passes on the day and was intercepted by Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu during the Browns first offensive possession of the second half. The Browns also only rushed for 72 yards on the day with 44 of them coming by way of the legs of Wallace. The Browns entered the Steelers redzone just once in the game and had to settle for a 26 yard field goal by kicker Phil Dawson after stalling at the Steelers 8 yard-line.
The Steelers offense struggled in redzone efficiency in the game as they converted just 1 of 4 trips into the Browns redzone into a touchdown. That lone touchdown was a 7 yard run by Redman with 5:27 left in the 3rd quarter. Kicker Shaun Suisham added field goals of 19 and 29 yards in the win, but he missed from 45 yards with 10:03 left in the first half.
Mendenhall was not the only injury suffered in the game by the Steelers as rookie cornerback Cortez Allen suffered a right shoulder or arm injury covering a punt in the 2nd quarter. Tomlin did not update the status of Allen specifically after the game and Allen never returned after leaving injured. Tight end David Johnson, right guard Ramon Foster, linebacker James Farrior and cornerback Keenan Lewis were all noted as injured during the game. Only Lewis did not return after leaving injured of that group and was replaced by cornerback Bryant McFadden in the nickel sub-packages.
The Steelers ended the regular season with a 12-4 record and enter the playoffs as the #5 seed in the AFC. They will travel to Denver next week to take on the Denver Broncos Sunday in one of the two AFC wildcard games. The kickoff time at Sports Authority Field is 4:30 pm EST.