The Cleveland Browns may have lost for the 16th time in their past 17 games against the Steelers, but they exacted yet another heavy toll on their oppressors just in time for the playoffs.
The Steelers were busy Monday assessing the damage, but two things were certain: Starting halfback Rashard Mendenhall's season ended because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in his eighth carry of the game in Cleveland, and their secondary needs support troops.
Two more cornerbacks were lost to injuries and safety Ryan Clark may not be able to play in Denver. That was one reason they were busy bringing cornerback Anthony Madison, 30, back into the fold. He would take Mendenhall's spot on the 53-man roster.
Mendenhall, 24, will have surgery in one or two weeks, after the swelling goes down, although a source told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette there is little swelling and that it appears there is no other damage in the knee. Such injuries usually require 6-8 months of recuperation and rehabilitation before a player can return, although it can vary widely. Rod Woodson had the injury in September 1995 and famously returned to play in the Super Bowl 41/2 months later.
"It's something that is tough," tackle Max Starks said, "but I definitely wish him his best, and he will be with us regardless."
In their first victory this season against the Browns Dec. 8, the Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to high ankle sprains, although Roethlisberger missed only the Dec. 24 game against St. Louis. Roethlisberger was hobbling after the game in Cleveland.
Although the Steelers had not announced his signing, Madison announced it and he was on his way to Pittsburgh to rejoin his former teammates.
The Steelers lost two cornerbacks to injuries in Cleveland, Keenan Lewis with a hamstring and rookie Cortez Allen to a separated shoulder. They will decide soon whether Clark will risk playing in the high altitude in Denver, where his sickle cell trait caused a violent reaction in 2007 that required emergency surgery and nearly killed him. He lost his spleen and gall bladder from the reaction caused by exertion in the mile-high altitude.
The Steelers also placed rookie cornerback Curtis Brown on injured reserve Dec. 23.
The new injuries left them with only three healthy cornerbacks in Cleveland -- starters Ike Taylor and William Gay, and veteran Bryant McFadden. Their other defensive backs include safeties Ryan Mundy and Will Allen.
Madison broke in with the Steelers in 2006 and has been off and on with them since. He has a Super Bowl ring from 2008 and played in every game with them last season. But he was not re-signed this year when his contract expired. He spent some time with the Detroit Lions, appearing in four games this season.
Isaac Redman and rookie John Clay said they are ready to handle the job left vacant by Mendenhall at halfback, and they likely will be rejoined by veteran Mewelde Moore, who missed the past two games with a sprained MCL.
"We're fine," Redman said after carrying 19 times for 92 yards in Cleveland, although with two lost fourth-quarter fumbles. "We had a good day running the ball. We have the players to get the job done."
Redman (2009) and Clay were undrafted players. Mendenhall will join two other young backs on injured reserve -- rookie Baron Batch had a torn ACL in the preseason and Jonathan Dwyer's second season ended Dec. 8 with a broken foot.
"We're ready," Redman declared. "I know I'm ready to roll and this team is ready to roll."
Teammates think Redman also is ready to handle the duties as the starter.
"We will run the same plays," tight end Heath Miller said. "All our guys are capable of toting the ball and being productive for us.
"Redman has a different running style. He's tough to bring down. You've seen that in the games where he's gotten carries. He really hits the holes. He's a really good running back. If he gets extra carries this week, I am excited to see what he can do with them.
"He has a rugged style to his game. I think he has a strong lower body that makes him able to run through tackles. He's shiftier than you think. He's a good all-around running back. I think this past game you got to see a little more of him than you otherwise would have."
Starks added, "I think we have great running backs. You look at how Isaac Redman played [Sunday]. He is a tremendous downhill rusher and I think even at one point, the Cleveland Browns were arguing with themselves over who was going to tackle him, because they couldn't get him down. He is just a hard runner and looking forward to seeing him feature.
"Then John Clay came in, not a lot of reps, one carry on his resume, of course it was a touchdown. But I think he is going to get some good burn this week too, so I am really excited for the two guys we have back there."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published January 3, 2012 5:00 AM