Cortez Allen received the opportunity to play the final two games of the season because of an injury to starting cornerback Ike Taylor, and the second-year pro from The Citadel made a strong bid for more playing time next season.
If Keenan Lewis leaves via unrestricted free agency, Allen proved he is an option to earn a starting job next season opposite Taylor.
In the past two games, Allen was in on five turnovers. After two interceptions and a forced fumble last week against the Bengals, Allen forced two more fumbles and recovered one of them in the Steelers' 24-10 season-ending victory Sunday against the Browns at Heinz Field.
"He's been ready," Lewis said of Allen. "He's one of those guys who could come in if a starter went down. Or if he was a starter he was going to play extremely well. It wasn't anything the coaches didn't know. They knew that. I have a lot of confidence in him when I'm out there with him."
Allen's two forced fumbles set up two touchdowns for the Steelers. In the second quarter, Allen stripped Josh Gordon after he caught a pass. Lawrence Timmons recovered at the Browns 24, setting up Leonard Pope's touchdown reception just before halftime.
In the fourth quarter, Allen stripped Travis Benjamin after he caught a pass, scooped up the ball and returned it 21 yards to set up the Steelers third touchdown.
For a defense that was starved for turnovers all season, Allen provided some much-needed play-making ability to Dick LeBeau's unit.
"I feel good about being able to help the team get these turnovers and getting this win," he said. "I'm just doing what I can to help the team. I'll go into the offseason continuing to train and get better and everything else will take care of itself from there."
Back to the Future
Plaxico Burress caught his first touchdown in a Steelers uniform in nearly eight years when he reeled in a 12-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter. It was his first touchdown reception as a Steelers player since the AFC championship loss to the Patriots after the 2004 season.
Burress finished with two receptions for 24 yards against the Browns and also drew a pass interference penalty.
"They pretty much told me early in the week I'd get some reps," Burress said. "We were looking for the right coverage. When I was getting single coverage, Ben was trying to give me a shot to go make some plays. We made a few and drew a pass interference. It was a pretty good day."
Burress, an 11-year veteran, was picked up by the Steelers in late November, but had been inactive the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Bengals. He said he would like to continue playing.
"I'm going to keep working," he said. "I know I can still play some good football. For me, I'm going to keep preparing and working out. I still feel I can run and do some things pretty well."
The 2012 season ended the way it started -- with more injuries to starters. Four more starters exited the game and did not return, but none of the injuries are thought to be serious.
Lewis and defensive end Brett Keisel sustained knee injuries, offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum a concussion and offensive guard David DeCastro a stinger.
Timmons makes history
Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had two fourth-quarter sacks to tie James Harrison for the team lead with six. Timmons is the first inside linebacker to lead the team in sacks since the league began keeping the statistic in 1972.
Malecki gets his feet wet
It took John Malecki three years to finally play a snap in the NFL, but this former Pitt and Franklin Regional standout had his dream come true Sunday. Malecki, an offensive lineman who spent half the season on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster, played extensively at right guard after injuries to starters DeCastro and Beachum necessitated that he play.
"Coach [Sean] Kugler told me I would get a series in the second half," Malecki said. "I was mentally prepared. It was great to get out there, an unbelievable experience."
Malecki said he hopes to return to the team next season.
"I thought I progressively got better as the year went on," he said. "It's a process. Being on the [practice] squad early in the year, these guys always treated me like I was on the active roster and one of them. Those guys treat me like a brother and I'm glad I had the opportunity to get out there and play with them."
Another coaching change?
Browns coach Pat Shurmur could find out today if he's still has his job.
Reports over the past few weeks in Cleveland have said that the team's new owner, Jimmy Haslam III, will make the change and fire Shurmur, who has compiled a 9-23 record in his two seasons as head coach.
"I haven't spoken to Joe [Bannon, team CEO] or Jimmy in quite some time," Shurmur said after the season-ending loss to the Steelers. "I saw them before the game, but not close enough to speak with them."
Haslam, who had a minority stake in the Steelers before buying the Browns, was announced as the team's new owner the first day of training camp. Mike Holmgren, who had been team president since December 2009 and was the man who hired Shurmur before the 2011 season, was told that he could finish out this season.
But Haslam let Holmgren go in late November as the cloud surrounding Shurmur grew.
Ventrone makes big play
Perhaps the biggest play of the day for the Browns was turned in by a guy who grew up in the Pittsburgh area.
Ray Ventrone, a Chartiers Valley graduate who played college football at Villanova, executed a fake punt on the opening possession in the third quarter and rumbled 35 yards to the Steelers 40. Three plays later, the Browns scored their only touchdown on a 7-yard pass from quarterback Thad Lewis to wide receiver Greg Little.
"We called the play and if we didn't get the look we wanted, we were going to audible out of it," said Ventrone, a backup safety. "We got the look we wanted and it was good. It worked out well."
The Steelers stopped the Browns a their 25 to start the second half, but immediately lost any momentum when Ventrone took the direct snap as the up back in punt formation.
"On the fake, you have to be patient" he said. "Everyone on the punt team blocked it well for me to have that kind of lane to run through."
True to his roots, Ventrone was wearing a black and gold Three Rivers Stadium t-shirt in the locker room after the game. Ventrone said there were about 60 friends and family in the crowed to see him play.
• The Steelers improved to 63-57 against the Browns and have won 10 consecutive at Heinz Field to improve to 39-21 in home games vs. their AFC North rival.
• The Steelers and Patriots are the only teams to win at least eight games in every season since 2004.
• The Steelers had three players with 60 receptions or more for only the second time since 1969. Heath Miller led the team with 71 catches, followed by Antonio Brown (66) and Mike Wallace (64).
• The Steelers finished the season with the fifth-most passing yards in franchise history. They threw for 3,787 yards. The top passing season was 2009, the previous time the team missed the playoffs before this season.
• Roethlisberger finished the season with 26 touchdown passes, tying for the second-best total of his career. He threw at least one touchdown pass in the 13 games he played this season.
• Tight end Leonard Pope caught his second touchdown pass of the season. Two of his three receptions this season were for touchdowns.
• Safety Troy Polamalu recorded the 30th interception of his career and became the ninth player in franchise history to reach 30 career interceptions. The Steelers improved to 25-3 when he records an interception.
Jerry Micco and Ed Bouchette contributed. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @rayfitt1.