Like last season, the Steelers are entering their final game of the season with a 7-8 record. Unlike last season, the Steelers still have a wing and a prayer of a playoff berth. All that needs to happen is for the Ravens, Dolphins, and Chargers all to lose. Simple, right?
But the first step on the journey is taking care of business against the Browns in Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to Cleveland at home, and it doesn’t seem like that trend will be stopping now.
The Steelers are playing without Jason Worilds, but the Browns are down several starters as well. Cleveland began with the ball and quickly found themselves in third and long after Jarvis Jones blew up a screen pass. Jones then forced Jason Campbell to throw the ball away on third down after the coverage downfield held up.
On first down for the Steelers, Roethlisberger threw a pass down the field for Emmanuel Sanders, but the ball was too high. They went five-wide on second down, and Roethlisberger found Heath Miller backing his way for nine yards to set up third and short. Jonathan Dwyer lowered his shoulder, bowling over his fullback, for the first down.
Le’Veon Bell was lucky to pick up two yards on his first carry. Audibling on second down, Roethlisberger escaped pressure to hit Antonio Brown, who was able to escape the first wave of pursuers for some yards after the catch down to the 21-yard line.
Roethlisberger again looked for Sanders deep in the end zone, but the pass would have been out of bounds anyway. He threw a rifle to Jerricho Cotchery on second down, but he was unable to drag his left foot for the touchdown. On third down, however, he found Cotchery for 12 yards to set up first and goal. Roethlisberger found Cotchery again on a high pass that he was able to take into the end zone for his 10th touchdown of the season and an early 7-0 lead.
Jones brought down running back Chris Ogbonnaya on first down to hold a screen for nine yards, but Edwin Baker was able to get the first down a player later. Baker ripped through a seam up the middle on the next play past midfield. He was able to pick up five on the next play. Cortez Allen was called for holding, giving the Browns a new set of downs.
Baker was finally stuffed on first down by Cameron Heyward and Al Woods for a loss of two. on second down, Vince Williams was able to drag down the tight end after four yards on a Wildcat carry. On third and eight, Campbell was able to find his wide receiver in front of William Gay for the first down.
After an incomplete pass, Ryan Clark came up to drop Baker for a short gain to set up another third and long. Brett Keisel stripped Campbell on third down and Chris Carter recovered.
Roethlisberger threw to Will Johnson on first down, who gained eight yards on the pass. On second and two, Roethlisberger threw it right to the Browns down the field, a bad mistake for the veteran quarterback.
Following his strip sack, Keisel broke through the line to tackle the back for no gain on first down. Campbell’s pass intended for Josh Gordon was incomplete. Campbell attempted to scramble on third down, but only picked up six. The Browns elected to go for it with four yards to go just on the cusp of field goal range. The Browns tried to quick snap the fourth down pass and took the Steelers a bit off guard. Jones jammed the receiver, but ultimately released him. Campbell threw the ball to him, but it was behind him for the turnover on downs.
Bell was lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage on first down, but he picked up seven on second down to set up third and two. Billy Winn blew up Marcus Gilbert on third down for the sack to force a punt.
Steve McLendon brought down Baker on first down after a gain of four yards. He and Jones helped tackle him for another four yards on second down. Lawrence Timmons stopped a check down pass for no gain to force the punt.
Starting from the 33, Bell barely got back to the line of scrimmage on first down. After a handful of nifty moves, however, he cut open for 17 yards. He squeezed through for four yards on the following play. Roethlisberger found Sanders for a first down pass of eight yards on second down.
Bell fought his way for five yards after the first down pass to keep ahead of the chains. On second down, Roethlisberger’s pass was deflected by Jabaal Sheard on what wasn’t a very well-thrown pass to start with. On third and five, Brown just got the handle on the pass before stepping out of bounds for the conversion.
Now from the 30-yard line, Bell punched through the middle for seven yards. Another dagger run was good for five or six yards and a first down into the red zone. Brown lined up in the backfield and ran a screen sweep for seven yards down to the 11 to set up second and three.
Bell took the handoff and gained the first down on a second effort, but Miller was flagged for a hold. Now on second and 13, Roethlisberger found Dwyer for nine yards to get into a manageable third down situation. Roethlisberger was able to complete it to Bell for the first down to set up first and goal.
Bell carried for two yards down to the four on first down. Bell was hit in the backfield on second down, but escaped the tackle and would not be denied, bowling his way into the end zone for his eighth touchdown of the season to give the Steelers a 14-0 lead.
Shaun Suisham’s kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Browns the ball at the 40-yard line. Campbell found Jordan Cameron for 24 yards on first down to quickly put the Browns well into Steelers territory. Gordon caught his first pass, but he was unable to stay inbounds for yards after the catch, though it did move the Browns to the 25.
On first down, the Browns were flagged for holding to back them up to the 35. Timmons once again blew up a running back screen for a loss of one. On second and 21, Campbell’s pass was nowhere near the mark as the two-minute warning hit. Timmons dragged the tight end Cameron down after a short gain on third and 21, forcing the Browns to punt on fourth and 17.
Taking over with 1:03 to go on the 20, Felix Jones ripped off a 10-yard run on first down. After a strike to Sanders for 28 yards, the Steelers took their second timeout. Roethlisberger got to the line of scrimmage before the ball was stripped, but he was able to recover the ball. He took a deep shot to Brown, who got behind the defense, but the ball didn’t have the distance. With seven seconds left, Roethlisberger just handed the ball to Bell for a short gain to end the half.