CLEVELAND (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up the AFC North crown and the second seed in the AFC playoffs with a dominating performance over the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon.
Pittsburgh got an added boost, as Troy Polamalu returned to the lineup and made his presence known immediately.
Cleveland got the ball to start the game, but they didn’t hold onto it for long.
On their second play of the drive, Colt McCoy’s pass intended for tight end Benjamin Watson was picked off by Polamalu. Watson juggled the ball and Polamalu dove to make the play.
Then, Pittsburgh wasted no time o capitalize on the turnover.
On their first play, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and launched a bomb downfield. Wide receiver Mike Wallace outran the entire Cleveland defense, tracked down the pass and took it into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown to go up 7-0 with 14:25 to play in the first quarter.
After forcing the Browns to punt, the Steelers added to their lead.
Roethlisberger found Wallace for a 41-yard catch and run that helped set up Rashard Mendenhall’s one-yard touchdown run. The score put the Steelers ahead 14-0 with 6:53 to play and capped a 10-play 71-yard drive.
On the ensuing drive, the Browns got on the scoreboard.
McCoy found Mohamed Massaquoi on a slant over the middle. Massaquoi broke a tackle and took it 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 5-yard line before James Harrison brought him down.
However, the Pittsburgh defense stepped up and forced the Browns to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Phil Dawson with 14:43 to play in the second quarter.
On their third possession of the game, the Steelers remained perfect and added to their lead again.
Mendenhall scored his second one-yard touchdown of the game to put the Steelers up 21-3 with 7:51 to play in the first half. The touchdown run capped an 11-play 74-yard drive.
Cleveland’s woes continued on the next drive as McCoy was picked off by Ryan Clark. The play was challenged and upheld and Pittsburgh took over on Cleveland’s 24-yard line.
Three plays later, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for a four-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-3 with 4:53 left in the half.
McCoy responded by throwing his third interception of the first half. He appeared to hurry the throw as James Harrison put a hit on him from the blind side. Anthony Madison came up with the interception and the Steelers took over on their own 24-yard line.
Cleveland finally forced the Steelers to try a field goal on their fifth possession of the game. Shaun Suisham drilled a 41-yard field goal to extend the lead to 31-3 with 1:30 to go in the half.
The Steelers came out in the second half and kept their starters in the game. They wasted no time in extending the lead either by scoring their fifth touchdown of the game.
Antwaan Randle El took a pitch from Roethlisberger, slipped in the backfield, regained his footing and found Hines Ward wide open in the back corner of the end zone. The touchdown made the score 38-3 with 7:24 to play in the third quarter.
With 4:08 to play in the third quarter, the Browns finally forced the Steelers to punt for the first time in the game.
Later, with Roethlisberger being pulled from the game, Byron Leftwich led the team into field goal range. Suisham connected on a 21-yard attempt to widen the margin to 41-3 with 12:32 to play in the game.
McCoy made up for one of his three interceptions with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie. The two-point conversion failed, making the score 41-9 with 6:33 to play.
The Steelers will now have next week off and will play the highest seed to advance to the AFC Divisional Round. The New England Patriots (14-2) had wrapped up the first overall seed in the AFC prior to their 38-7 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.