Mike Tomlin's gamble paid off. Ben Roethlisberger took the day off and so did the St. Louis Rams as the Steelers used the opportunity to work their ground game against the worst run defense in the NFL.
The 27-0 final Saturday at Heinz Field was not as close as the score might indicate.
Charlie Batch was efficient if not proficient throwing the ball, and Rashard Mendenhall topped 100 yards rushing for the second time this season as the Steelers ran their record to 11-4 heading into the final game.
They remain tied for first in the AFC North with Baltimore, which also won, beating Cleveland at home. The Steelers need to finish a game ahead of the Ravens in order to earn one of the top two seeds in the AFC and a playoff bye, or else they would enter immediately as a wild-card team on the road.
Tomlin decided to hold Roethlisberger out of the game -- although he did dress and stood on the sideline -- because of his high left ankle sprain, even though he played Monday in San Francisco 11 days after his high ankle sprain.
"Had we had six or seven days, we probably wouldn't have played him in San Francisco," Tomlin said. "The collateral damage coming out of a game like Monday night, on a short week, we made the decision pretty early that we weren't even going to attempt to try to work him in."
Batch completed 15 of 22 passes for 208 yards and one interception to run his record as a starter with the Steelers to 5-2.
"What's new man? The standard is the standard," linebacker James Farrior said, repeating a Tomlin mantra. "We say all the time the quarterback position isn't any different than any other."
The Steelers' ground game aided Batch by piling up 169 yards on 28 carries, 116 on 18 carries by Mendenhall (52 on one run) against the worst run defense in the league. They did it even though their No. 2 center, Doug Legursky, left the game on the second play with a strained shoulder and right tackle Marcus Gilbert was benched after he was late for a meeting last week. Trai Essex replaced Legursky at center and Jonathan Scott replaced Gilbert.
"We watched film all week and saw these guys miss a lot of tackles," said Isaac Redman, who tacked on 35 yards rushing. "So, we knew we had a good chance."
Rookie John Clay, added to the roster Friday from the practice squad, ran 10 yards for a touchdown on his first NFL carry. Usually, Mendenhall would have been the one to carry in that situation, but he was tuckered out after reeling off a 52-yard run on the previous play.
Mendenhall ran for a 1-yard touchdown after Mike Wallace's 46-yard reception from Batch to the 1, and Redman added a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Shaun Suisham also kicked field goals of 21 and 49 yards.
St. Louis slipped to 2-13.
In the process, Antonio Brown set a Steelers record for all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving and returns) with 2,048. He joined Mike Wallace with 1,000 yards receiving. As a punt-returner, he also made a nice tackle to deny a first down on a fake by St. Louis punter Donnie Jones.
It is the first time since 2007 the Steelers have recorded two shutouts in the same season. They beat Seattle Sept. 18 at Heinz Field, 24-0.
"No points is no points, no matter what the team is, what the record is," Farrior said about St. Louis, last in the league with only 166 points. "It's tough to get, man. They had a couple opportunities. We got lucky a couple times. They had some close-range field goals."
Josh Brown of the Rams missed two field-goal attempts, a 52-yarder wide to the left on the last play of the first half and a 33-yarder wide right in the fourth quarter.
About the only negative for the Steelers this Christmas Eve was delivered by powerful running back Steven Jackson, who rushed for 103 yards on 24 attempts.
"He's a great running back, he really is," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "You have to give him a lot of credit. He ran hard."
It was the third time this season the Steelers have allowed a 100-yard rusher.
The Steelers scored on their first drive and, on one play, Batch performed a good Roethlisberger impression. On second down, Batch scrambled right under pressure, ducked and eluded a sack, then scrambled to his left and popped a short pass to Mendenhall, who turned it into a 35-yard gain.
The drive died at the 3, however, and Suisham kicked a 21-yard field goal. They did not know it at the time, but it would be the only score they needed.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published December 25, 2011 5:00 AM