GAME BALL goes to: CB William Gay
Gay has been one of the team's unsung players after returning in free agency and he continued his string of strong play against the Browns. After making a team-high 11 tackles against the Bills and not allowing his receiver a catch against the Lions, Gay forced a fumble that set up the second touchdown that put the game out of reach and he also returned an interception 21 yards for the final touchdown. "It's just a job," Gay said. "It's a job you have to do, just like winning."
THE COUNTDOWN -- A quick look at the top performances from the game Sunday against the Browns:
1. BIG TURNAROUND: After getting stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Browns 45 and unsuccessfully challenging the spot, the Steelers got a big play for the second game in a row by safety Will Allen just five plays later. On third-and-7, cornerback William Gay sacked Jason Campbell, forcing a fumble that Allen returned 49 yards to the Browns 4. One play later, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 4-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders to make it 20-3. "I saw the ball, picked it up with one hand and started running," Allen said. "I thought I could walk into the end zone."
2. BIG PLAY: After going without a catch in the first quarter, Antonio Brown had five in the second quarter, none bigger than when he beat CB Joe Haden for a 41-yard touchdown down the left sideline for a 10-3 lead.
3. CAN'T SPELL TROY WITHOUT TO: Four plays after Brown's touchdown catch, Troy Polamalu forced a fumble by running back Chris Ogbonnaya and recovered the ball at the Steelers 46, leading to Shaun Suisham's 32-yard field goal at the end of the half for a 13-3 lead.
4. BEN'S BURST: In one stretch of the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger completed 11 of 13 passes for 127 yards, capping the spurt with back-to-back passes to Heath Miller that set up Suisham's field goal.
5. BIG-PLAY GAY: The Steelers cornerback put an exclamation point on the victory when he intercepted Brandon Weeden's pass for tight end Jordan Cameron and returned the pick 21 yards for a touchdown -- the first pick-6 of his career
"I feel like we're really playing good team ball. The offense is playing off the defense and the defense is playing off the offense. This is when you want to be playing your best ball. Right now I feel like we're finding our niche. Right now we're playing playoff football. We know one loss can mean the end of our season."
-- Emmanuel Sanders
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
416: That's the numbers of combined receiving yards that Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Cleveland's Josh Gordon had against cornerback Ike Taylor the past two games. Gordon had 14 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown -- nine catches and 175 yards coming in the second half.
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
After forcing just seven turnovers in the first nine games, the Steelers have forced seven in the past two after getting a season-high four against the Browns. And all the takeaways came from the secondary -- with Gay forcing a sack fumble and returning an interception for touchdown and Troy Polamalu forcing two fumbles and recovering one. Allen recovered one fumble that he returned 49 yards and Cam Heyward recovered the other. The takeaways led to 17 points. "We just wanted to represent Coach [Dick] LeBeau, that's what we pride ourselves on," Gay said. "It's like trying to make your father proud."
X's AND O's
Even though they rushed a season-high 34 times, the Steelers threw just as many times on a day when the windy, cold conditions weren't conducive to passing. And, whether by design or not, they were intent on throwing on first down. Of their 23 first-down opportunities in the first three quarters, Ben Roethlisberger threw on 17 of them, or 74 percent of the time. He completed 13 of those passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. "Our game plan was to run heavy early," Roethlisberger said. "But we also said let's get into our offense and not rely strictly on the run game."
The Steelers (5-6) play at the Baltimore Ravens (5-6) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. The Steelers won the first meeting this season, 19-16, and have won three of the past five games in Baltimore, including 23-20 in 2012.