By Christina Rivers

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a bit of a stroke of luck sneaking their way into the NFL post-season. With a 28-12 win over the Cleveland Browns and the loss of the New York Jets to the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers were able to slip into the playoffs as the AFC’s number six seed. The Week 17 road game was not the prettiest of wins for a Pittsburgh team that has been far from perfect all season, but they overcame mental errors and sloppy play that has plagued them off and on to a winning 10-6 record.

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Offense stumbles early, pulls together later – Grade: B-

On the opening drive, the Steelers offense saw All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown fumble a pass after a catch when hit by Karlos Dansby. Brown got back on his feet, lighting the Browns defense up with 10 catches in the first half of the game on his way to lead all Steelers receivers with 13 for 187 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his share of missteps, throwing a pair of interceptions that allowed Cleveland to remain in the game until a fourth-quarter implosion. After running back DeAngelo Williams rolled an ankle, Fitzgerald Toussaint finished the game with 12 carries for 24 yards and Roethlisberger went to work in the passing game. Roethlisberger found six different receivers for 24-of-36 completions for 349 yards and three touchdowns. The offense earned all 16 of their first downs on the pass and had an abysmal third-down conversion rate of 2/8 or 25 percent, but benefited from relatively strong play from the offensive line that did not allow a single sack. Tight end Heath Miller and receiver Markus Wheaton scored the other two touchdowns for Pittsburgh.

Defense creates turnovers, pressure – Grade: A

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The win really should be given to a Steelers defense that once again applied the right amount of pressure against a floundering Browns team that put quarterback Austin Davis under center. Davis, untested and relatively unknown, took a pounding from the Steelers defensive line that found a way to drop him for a sack seven times in Johnny Manziel’s absence. With the pressure up front, the Steelers were able to keep Davis from turning three Steelers turnovers into points, limiting the Browns to scoring via the leg of placekicker Travis Koons. Tight end Gary Barnidge was the lone bright spot on a Browns offense that watched Pittsburgh’s defense take advantage of two Davis interceptions (one by James Harrison, the other by William Gay) and two forced fumbles. Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons led the way in shutting down Davis with 3.5 sacks between them. Timmons added one forced fumble, as did cornerback Brandon Boykin.

Little bang from special teams remains constant – Grade: B

The Steelers have struggled all season to have a special teams squad that was worthy of fireworks, normally doing just enough to keep opponents from breaking big returns and a mixed bag in kicking/punting. On Sunday, the Steelers saw Brown return just one punt for five yards after Cleveland downed one inside the Pittsburgh ten yard-line and the other was called a fair catch. Placekicker Chris Boswell missed a 48-yard field goal, wide right, in the opening of the second quarter but saw success on two others and was a perfect two-for-two in PATs. Jordan Berry averaged 41.3 yards on three punts. They may not be the most exciting squad the Steelers field, but they have held together well since Boswell’s hiring.

Coaching and Overview

Some fans may see the combo of Tomlin with offensive and defensive coordinators Todd Haley and Keith Butler as a so-so, squeak-by coaching trio after what has been an up-and-down team this season. Not enough credit is given when you take into consideration that with the acquisition of Williams to replace Le’Veon Bell as the team’s leading rusher and adjustments in personnel from week to week due to injuries – including the quarterback position – these three coaches have been able to help lead the Steelers to their 12th-straight non-losing season. The Steelers enter the wild-card round of the playoffs against the AFC’s number three seed in a game next weekend.

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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.