GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Hines Ward
It wasn't one for the highlight film, nor will it be remembered for anything other than its significance, but Ward became the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career receptions -- and he did it on a shovel pass that lost 3 yards in the fourth quarter. Ward had five catches for 24 yards against the Browns, none longer than 9 yards, giving him exactly 1,000 at the end of his 14th season with the Steelers. "It was the happiest negative-yards catch I've ever had," Ward said. "I am proud to get all the catches with the same organization."
X's AND O's
As he has been doing for most of the year, CB Ike Taylor shadowed the Browns' top receiver, rookie Greg Little, and held him without a catch. Little had four catches for 40 yards against the Ravens a week earlier and came into the game with 61 catches and 709 yards. Despite being targeted five times, he was shutout by Taylor. "I don't even know if I looked at 15 the whole game," said safety Ryan Clark, referring to Little's number. "Ike's been doing that all year."THE COUNTDOWN
A quick look at the top performances from Sunday's game:
1 TROY'S PICK: The Steelers hadn't had a takeaway since the first meeting against the Browns, and Troy Polamalu had only one interception all season, but those droughts ended when Polamalu stepped in front of a Seneca Wallace pass at the Browns 43. Six plays later, the Steelers had their first touchdown on a 7-yard run by Isaac Redman and a 13-6 lead. "It's that time of year," coach Mike Tomlin said of the defense. "They got to respond in that manner. We expect them to."
2 REDMAN RED-FACED: Isaac Redman ruined a nice game (92 yards on 19 carries) by fumbling twice in the last quarter, the latter coming after a 22-yard run to the Browns 39. "I think I need to be smarter in those situations," he said. "Those two critical fumbles really hurt the team."
3 DEJA VU: WR Antonio Brown caught a 40-yard pass down the right side to the Browns 13, setting up Shaun Suisham's 19-yard FG at the end of the half. Brown used his left hand to hold the ball to his helmet, similar to the play he made last year against Baltimore.
4 GROUND POUND: The Steelers started the second half with three running plays that gained 26 yards, setting the tone for a half in which they rushed for 101 of their 161 yards. The opening 12-play drive resulted in a tying field goal by Suisham.
5 BIG SCRAMBLES: The Steelers held the Browns to 72 yards rushing, but 47 of those came on scrambles of 27 and 20 yards by QB Seneca Wallace, each of which resulted in a field goal for the Browns. The latter, from 49 yards, cut the Steelers lead to 13-9.
11: INSIDE THE NUMBERS
That's the number of times the Steelers held an opposing QB under 200 yards this season. Seneca Wallace threw for 177 yards and his passer rating of 42.4 was the 2nd lowest allowed by the Steelers this season.
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
While former coach Bill Cowher insisted on TV he would start Charlie Batch and not play Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns unless absolutely necessary, the Steelers struggled through another inefficient performance by their Pro Bowl QB. Since injuring his left ankle in the first meeting with the Browns Dec. 8, Roethlisberger has produced just two touchdowns and 23 points in 10 quarters. He went six quarters without a touchdown until a 7-yard run by Redman in the third quarter. "Of course he's not 100 percent, but there are many guys out there in uniform that aren't [100 percent]," coach Mike Tomlin said.
"You want to get to the Super Bowl, you got to beat them all anyway. We've made it through on the road before -- let's do it. Green Bay did it last year. The Giants did it [in 2007]. We're just happy we're in the tournament and we'll see what happens." -- ILB James Farrior on playing on the road as the No. 5 seed in the postseason
AT DENVER BRONCOS, 4:30 P.M.: The Steelers are 3-3 against the Broncos in the postseason, including 2-2 in Denver. The Steelers won the most recent playoff meeting there, 34-17, in the 2005 AFC championship game.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org ; twitter: @gerrydulac First Published January 2, 2012 5:00 AM