PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — There was a lot at stake Sunday afternoon as the Steelers marched into Cleveland needing a win and a little bit of help from elsewhere as they closed out the regular season.
While it wasn’t pretty, the Steelers managed a wind-whipped victory as they edged the Browns 13-9 and now head into the postseason. It was the Steelers’ 16th victory in 17 games against the Browns.
Isaac Redman replaced injured starting running back Rashard Mendenhall and scored a touchdown as the Steelers limped into the AFC playoff.
Redman scored on a 7-yard run in the third quarter for the Steelers (12-4), who finished tied with Baltimore for first in the AFC North but lose the tiebreaker because the Ravens beat them twice. Pittsburgh needed to win and hope Cincinnati could knock off the Ravens. However, the Bengals lost 24-16.
Meanwhile, the Steelers had to survive two fumbles by Redman in the second half and then held their breath on the final play when Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace floated a pass into a crowd in the back of the end zone. But Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu came over the top and got his hand on the ball before rookie wide receiver Greg Little could grab it, allowing the Steelers to escape.
The Browns (4-12) lost their last six games and nine of 10 under first-year coach Pat Shurmur.
With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already hobbled by a severely sprained ankle, the Steelers lost Mendenhall with an injured right knee in the first quarter.
Mendenhall’s status for the postseason is unknown. Redman rushed for 92 yards on 19 carries.
Roethlisberger, barely able to move around in the pocket, went just 23 of 40 for 221 yards but made enough big throws to help him improve to 14-1 in his career against the Browns.
Shaun Suisham made two field goals for the Steelers, who won 12 games for the second year in a row, something they haven’t done since 1978-79. They won the Super Bowl both those years.
Phil Dawson kicked three field goals that accounted for all of Cleveland points.
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had five catches and became the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career catches.
Ward grabbed a shovel pass in the fourth quarter, and although it lost three yards, it got him to the milestone.
Ward and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice are the only players with 1,000 receptions and more than one Super Bowl win. Ward was embraced by his teammates when he came to the sideline after his catch, but it was one of the few things worth celebrating on a sloppy day for the Steelers, who dominated the stat sheet but couldn’t put the Browns away.
Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison was well-behaved.
Harrison, who was suspended for one game for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Dec. 8, had little impact on the game. He was credited with three tackles, but none of them will need to be reviewed by commissioner Roger Goodell.
Mendenhall was hurt on the final play of the first quarter. He got tripped up at the end of a 5-yard run and immediately grabbed his right knee. Mendenall walked slowly to the sideline, slapping hands with some teammates on his way to the bench, where Pittsburgh’s medical staff checked him out before taking him to the locker room for further tests.
Without Mendenhall, the Steelers’ game plan was out the window. And with Roethlisberger slowed by his tender ankle, Pittsburgh had to make due.
With the score tied 6-6 in the third, Polamalu’s interception of Wallace at Cleveland’s 43 set up the Steelers’ go-ahead score.
On 3rd-and-2, Wallace rolled right, and feeling pressure from backup linebacker Jason Worlids, forced a pass to tight end Evan Moore that Polamalu read perfectly and picked off near the sideline.
Roethlisberger completed two passes and the Browns jumped offsides to put it at the 7 before Redman took a handoff right and weaved his way in to make it 13-6.
After getting their first points on Suisham’s 19-yard field goal on the final play before halftime, the Steelers took the kickoff to start the second half and marched deep into Cleveland territory before their drive stalled and Suisham booted a 29-yarder.
Down 6-0 and looking anything but prepared for the postseason, the Steelers finally put together a scoring drive to close the first half.
Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown for 40 yards and Pittsburgh moved to Cleveland’s 1-yard line with 11 seconds left. But out of timeouts, the Steelers couldn’t risk running the ball — a mistake the Browns made last week — and Roethlisberger threw two incomplete lobs into the end zone before Suisham kicked his 19-yarder.
Earlier, Suisham’s 45-yard attempt was blown wide left by strong gusts off Lake Erie.
The Steelers will take on the Broncos in Denver in the wild card round of the playoffs.
According to NFL.com, the Steelers and Broncos game has been set for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday on KDKA-TV.
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