On the Steelers: Playoff berth clinched with 28-12 win against Browns, Jets' loss
January 4, 2016 12:12 AM
Mike Tomlin celebrates with the Steelers fans after beating the Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Arthur Moats celebrates with fans Sunday after the Steelers beat the Browns in Cleveland.
Darrius Heyward-Bey makes a catch for a first down after beating coverage by the Browns' Pierre Desir.
Markus Wheaton hauls in a touchdown pass against the Browns during Sunday's game in Cleveland.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates with fans Sunday after the Steelers beat the Browns, 28-12, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland to clinch a playoff berth in the regular-season finale.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass against the Browns.
Antonio Brown leaps in to the fans celebrating his touchdown in the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Darrius Heyward-Bey cannot make a catch in the end zone.
DeAngelo Williams is carted off with an ankle injury in the first half Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Antonio Brown fumbles in the first half Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Bud Dupree takes a selfie with fans at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, before today's game against the Browns.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEVELAND — The Steelers pulled one off Sunday and should take up a collection and send Rex Ryan and his Buffalo Bills some token of their appreciation for saving them from their Baltimore fiasco.
There is no such thing as a “Sixth Seed Playoff” hat or jersey to wear or market, and there will be none of those trinkets this side of the AFC championship. It is a very long road as the sixth seed — Saturday night when they play in Cincinnati, the week after that if they win, and the week after that if they win. String together three road victories, and you reach the Super Bowl.
That they became the first in history to win three playoff games on the road and then win the Super Bowl 10 years ago can serve as inspiration. Two other teams followed them: The 2007 New York Giants won three on the road and then the Super Bowl, and the 2010 Green Bay Packers ended their postseason road run by beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
But this team must play a lot better than it did in its past two games to move on to that second square.
“We need to be perfect,” declared quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who overcame his imperfections Sunday to counter his two interceptions with three touchdown passes and a 102.7 passer rating in a 28-12 victory against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.
He is among four players left on the roster who experienced that previously unprecedented Super Bowl XL road rage, and he talked about what it means to take that path.
“We need to be great. We need to be that way as a team. It’s going to be a conversation I have with the team to let them know … the postseason is a different season. You’re going to have to do your best.”
At times, there have been none better than a Steelers team that won in Cincinnati, beat Denver, beat Arizona and took it to the Seahawks in Seattle. At times, there have been few worse in their two losses to Baltimore.
But they have won three of their past four, and those include victories against the Bengals and Broncos. If that team shows up in the playoffs, there could be heck to pay.
“It’s tough,” said tight end Heath Miller, another member of the 2005ers. “Every game is going to be on the road, but we’ve won on the road here before. We feel like if we play our best football, the football we’re capable of playing, then I like our chances.”
The loss of halfback DeAngelo Williams could derail those chances the way the loss of Le’Veon Bell did a year ago. They do not have a quality backup. Williams left the stadium with his injured right ankle in a protective walking boot. They put those boots on as a matter of course anymore, and coach Mike Tomlin gave no indication how serious the injury might be.
Backup Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 12 times for 24 yards against the Browns and the Steelers finished with 30 yards on 19 carries.
“We have to run the ball better than we did if we want to stay in this tournament for any length of time,” Tomlin said.
If not, Roethlisberger might need to be better than perfect. He certainly must be better than he has been lately. His two interceptions Sunday left him with six in the past three games and 16 overall, the second most in his career and most since his third season. This even though he missed four full games and a fifth start. But he has shown that he can be among the most dangerous, prolific and clutch quarterbacks in the NFL, as well, and he is playoff-experienced for sure.
“We have the quarterback who has been there before,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said.
And the linebacker. James Harrison pulled off a play that initially looked eerily similar to the one he made in Super Bowl XLIII — his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown. Sunday, Roethlisberger threw an interception to give the Browns a first down at the Steelers 9, ahead just, 14-9, in the third quarter.
Three plays later, Harrison jumped in front of an Austin Davis pass in the middle of the pack, 1 yard deep in the end zone, and picked it off. He returned it only 6 yards this time, to the 5, but it was a turning point.
Afterward, Harrison, 37, who played most of the game Sunday because of a minor injury to Jarvis Jones, issued his own state of the union as yet another member of the 2005 team.
“That’s the ultimate goal, to win the championship,” Harrison said. “Right now, we’re starting off with a clean slate just like everybody else. We’re one of the teams that has an opportunity to hold up the Lombardi, and that’s the goal.
“If we’re playing our best, it’s not much that can go wrong. As long as we execute and play defense and offense the way we need to, I think we have a great shot at winning a championship.
“No one’s scary. If you’re scared of another team, you’re in the wrong profession.”
In the meantime, they should spare no small expense for a nod to another team. Surely Ryan and his Bills could use some nice, warm Hestra Heli Gloves or such to get them through the rest of the Buffalo winter. It’s the least they could do as a gesture of gratitude for giving them a second chance.
“Thanks to Coach Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo,” Roethlisberger said. “I know they’re excited about 8-8, and we’re excited that they got us in.”
Now it’s up to the Steelers to do something with it.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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