CLEVELAND -- The Steelers tonight won the battle but lost the holiday bauble that would have brought them the gift of a first-round bye and a home playoff game.
Instead, the Steelers will open their playoffs on Sunday, 4:30 p.m., as a wildcard team at Denver, the AFC West champion.
The Steelers did their part by beating Cleveland 13-9, but down in southwestern Ohio, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals 24-16 to clinch the AFC North Division title and the No. 2 seed in the conference and the bye. The New England Patriots have the No. 1 seed and the other bye.
Hines Ward did get his five receptions to hit 1,000, only the eighth receiver in NFL history to do so.
His 1,000th reception came early in the fourth quarter,a shovel pass that lost three yards. Nevertheless, he left the game and was mobbed by teammates and coaches along the sideline for the accomplishment.
The Steelers completed the regular season with a 12-4 record, tied with Baltimore but since the Ravens beat them twice, they earned the tiebreaker and the division crown. The Browns finished 4-12.
Ben Roethlisberger, who missed last week's game with a high ankle sprain, started and played the entire game. he completed 23 of 40 passes for 221 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions.
Isaac Redman replaced an injured Rashard Mendenhall and rushed for 92 yards on 19 carries and one touchdown but he also lost two fourth-quarter fumbles that helped keep the Browns in the game.
The Steelers broke in front 13-9 after three quarters, scoring 10 points on their first two drives of the second half, and hung on for another tight victory on the road.
Shaun Suisham tied the game at 6-6 with a 29-yard field goal following the first drive of the second half and Redman ran seven yards for a touchdown.
Troy Polamalu set things up for his offense by intercepting a Seneca Wallace pass at the Cleveland 43. It was the first turnover forced by the Steelers in the past three games and Polamalu's second interception of the season.
The offense took it from there, using the no huddle on the six-play drive that ended when Redman ran behind a Heath Miller block seven yards for a touchdown.
Cleveland's Phil Dawson kicked his third field goal of the game, from 49 yards late in the third quarter.
The Steelers trailed 6-3 at halftime and salvaged something out of the first half half when Ben Roethlisberger completed a 40-yard pass to Antonio Brown, who made a near mirror catch of the one in the playoff vs. Baltimore last season, securing the ball to his helmet with his left hand.
That carried to the 14, and Brown -- voted last week by his teammates as their MVP -- caught another pass of 13 yards to the one. Roethlisberger tried two passes into the end zone that fell incomplete before Suisham kicked a 19-yard field goa.
After a scoreless first quarter, Dawson kicked two field goals in the second quarter -- a 26-yard field goal with 6:03 to go in the half, and one from 45 with 1:06 to go.
Suisham missed a 45-yard field goal attempt earlier in the second quarter.
The Steelers lost two players to injuries in the second quarter. Rashard Mendenhall left with right knee injury and rookie cornerback Cortez Allen left with a right arm injury. Neither player returned to play.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 1, 2012 10:00 PM