It was not a vintage performance by Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions for the first time since the eighth game in New England. But he completed 4 of 7 passes for 64 yards on the opening drive for a 7-0 lead, and that’s really all he needed to do. It was the fifth time this season and third game in a row he threw for fewer than 200 yards, but he’s 4-1 in those games.
Le’Veon Bell did more than just set a team rookie record with 1,259 yards from scrimmage. He finished with 90 yards rushing on 20 carries — the fourth time in the past five games he has averaged more than 4 yards per carry. He had 52 of those yards in the first half, including 41 yards on eight carries on the second scoring drive. His 5-yard touchdown run that capped that 14-play drive was a thing of beauty.
Antonio Brown had another productive game with nine catches for 87 yards, including a 24-yard catch-and-run on the opening drive to set up a touchdown. Brown had six catches in the second half, including four on a drive that set up a field goal. Jerricho Cotchery made a nice dive to the pylon on a 9-yard touchdown, his 10th scoring catch this season.
The Steelers rushed for 120 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per attempt, the third game in a row and sixth time this season they topped 100 yards. And Roethlisberger was sacked just once when Marcus Gilbert got beat by DE Billy Winn in the first half. What’s more, the Steelers did not have a run for negative yards, but it should be noted the Browns allowed an average of 193.5 yards rushing the past two games.
After giving up 151 yards rushing a week ago in Green Bay, the Steelers tightened up to some degree against the Browns, allowing 79 yards on 20 carries. DE Brett Keisel made two big plays early, forcing a fumble on a sack and making a big defensive stop in what could be his final game with the Steelers. Cam Heyward had one of the three sacks, two quarterback hurries and two tackles for a loss.
Lawrence Timmons and rookie Jarvis Jones made plays all over the field, especially in the run game. Timmons had three big defensive stops in the first half and finished with eight tackles, a sack and a late interception. But he did get beat on the Browns’ lone touchdown. Jones played his best game of the season, finishing with a team-high nine tackles, including one for a loss. He also had a pass defended and tipped a throw at the line of scrimmage.
Jason Campbell didn’t target either of his Pro Bowl receivers — Josh Gordon or tight end Jordan Cameron — until they trailed, 14-0. Gordon had just one catch for 11 yards in the first half, but finished with seven catches and 82 yards. After allowing 12 passes of 40 yards or longer in the first 13 games, the Steelers didn’t allow a pass longer than the 35-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Browns RB Fozzy Whittaker in the final three.
Shaun Suisham was perfect on two more field-goal attempts (30, 32 yards), giving him 15 in a row since he had his only two misses of the season Week 7 in Oakland. Suisham has converted 63 of 68 attempts in the past 34 games, a 92.6 percent conversion rate. And after allowing three long returns in Green Bay, the only gaffe was a kickoff out of bounds. On the other side, can someone explain how a 4-11 team, trailing, 14-0, punts from the opposing 33?
After an 0-4 start, the Steelers finished 8-4 in their final 12 games, tempering some of the panic that set in when the team was 2-6. And, considering how close they were to beating the Ravens and Dolphins, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest they could have finished the season with an 8-0 run. Changes in personnel are needed, especially on defense, but not with anyone of significance on the coaching staff.
TODAY'S TEAM GRADE: A