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01-01-2012, 02:24 AM
Pittsburgh (11-4) at Cleveland (4-11)


The Pittsburgh Steelers had no problems getting by without Ben Roethlisberger in their latest game, but the franchise quarterback says he plans to play in the team’s potentially significant regular-season finale in Cleveland.

The progress of a game on the opposite end of Ohio may determine how much.

A first-round bye is in sight for the Steelers with a victory over the Browns on Sunday and some help, but otherwise they’d likely need to win three times on the road to make a return trip to the Super Bowl.

After suffering a high ankle sprain in a 14-3 win over Cleveland in Week 14, Roethlisberger played through pain in a 20-3 loss at San Francisco 11 days later, throwing three interceptions as Pittsburgh blew a chance to stay in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top seed.

Needing two wins and a Baltimore loss to win the AFC North and guarantee at least a first-round bye, the Steelers (11-4) rested Roethlisberger in favor of Charlie Batch last weekend against St. Louis. Batch threw for 208 yards while Pittsburgh rode a 116-yard rushing performance from Rashard Mendenhall and a dominant defensive effort to a 27-0 win.

Baltimore held off a late rally by the Browns to win 20-14 that same day, but the division’s current leader - by virtue of a head-to-head sweep of the Steelers - hardly has it easy in Week 17. The Ravens travel to Cincinnati, where a win would put the Bengals in the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 6 seed and third qualifier from the North.

A Baltimore loss and Pittsburgh win would give the Steelers the No. 2 seed, and potentially No. 1 should New England falter. But anything else leaves Pittsburgh as the AFC’s fifth seed with no week off, almost certainly requiring the defending conference champions to win three road games to reach a fourth Super Bowl in seven years.

It was unclear early in the week if the Steelers would risk Roethlisberger for what amounts to a 50-50 shot at best at a bye, but Thursday the recently named Pro Bowl passer said he’d give it a go.

“As long as I can deal with pain, I’ll be out there,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t want to let the guys down, so I’ll do what I can to be out there.”

Coach Mike Tomlin’s offensive coordinator agrees - to a point.

“I want him out there but not at the risk of injuring himself,” Bruce Arians said. “If he can’t move around and get out of the way, there’s no sense in getting him out there.”

While the Steelers need help from the Bengals - offensive lineman Trai Essex said he “might peek a couple of times” at the scoreboard - they’re focused on the Browns (4-11), especially considering they didn’t put the Dec. 8 meeting away until a 79-yard Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown touchdown with 2:52 left.

“Cleveland’s going to do whatever they can to put a damper on our season as much as possible,” Essex told the Steelers’ official website. “They’re not having the year I’m sure they wanted to, but whenever we play against each other it doesn’t matter what our record is, we’re going to get their best and they’re going to get ours.”

Roethlisberger isn’t the only quarterback to have sustained a potentially significant injury in the first meeting. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy took a helmet-to-helmet shot from Steelers linebacker James Harrison late in the fourth quarter, a hit that drew Harrison a one-game suspension and opened the door to Cleveland’s coaching staff receiving plenty of criticism.

McCoy returned to the game, but was later diagnosed with a concussion. The decision to send him back in led to the NFL instituting a policy that requires teams to have a certified athletic trainer in the press box help medical staffs evaluate injured players.

One of the harshest critics of the Browns’ handling of the situation was none other than Harrison, who said last week that Cleveland should be disciplined since he was docked one game.

As for his play, Harrison claims he’s lowered his target area. Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson isn’t so sure.

“Harrison is who he is and whether you fine him, you suspend him, he’s not going to change,” Jackson said.

McCoy, who missed the past two games, has not been medically cleared and is unlikely to return for the finale. Seneca Wallace figures to get the call again after throwing for 373 yards, two TDs and an interception in losses to the Cardinals and Ravens.

“We have to try to take advantage of every opportunity and make sure we do it at 100 percent,” Wallace said. “Do it at a high level and minimize mistakes. Against teams in this division, we can’t give them easy ones.”

As long as Roethlisberger’s been in Pittsburgh, matchups with Cleveland have typically been just that. The Steelers are 13-1 against the Browns with Roethlisberger starting, and he’s thrown seven touchdown passes without a pick in his last four visits to Cleveland.

“You never want to lose to Cleveland,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “When you are in this city, when you play for this organization, that’s a game you don’t want to lose.”

01-01-2012, 02:30 AM
Game 16 Matchup: Steelers vs. Browns


Sunday, January 01, 2012

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After one game off, Ben Roethlisberger returns to the starting lineup today in Cleveland.

When the Browns have the ball: QB Colt McCoy has not started since he got a concussion on a hit from James Harrison in the first meeting. He will be replaced by Seneca Wallace, who has a stronger arm and fresher legs than McCoy but has been plagued by bad decision-making in his past two starts. The Browns have scored only eight TDs in seven homes games and are always playing from behind. They have scored only three first-quarter TDs. And, after going the first 13 games without a TD in the third quarter, they have scored one in each of the past two games. Pro Bowl LT Joe Thomas remains one of the best in the league, but former Pitt T Jason Pinkston has had to start at LG because of a season-ending back injury to G Eric Steinbach. Without Steinbach, the Browns do not have a competent pulling guard to get their backs to the outside. One of their best weapons has been K Phil Dawson, who has converted more attempts from 50 yards and beyond (7 of 8) than he has from 20-29 (6 of 8).

When the Steelers have the ball: QB Ben Roethlisberger will start and play only as long as necessary, but he needs to be productive. Since injuring his left ankle, he has produced only one touchdown and 10 points in six quarters. For the second week in a row, the Steelers will face one of the worst rush defenses in the league. However, the Browns have held Arizona's Beanie Wells (51) and Baltimore's Ray Rice (87) under 100 yards the past two games. RB Rashard Mendenhall has rushed for 256 yards (5.01 ypc) in the past three games. Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey returns after a two-game absence -- significant because the Browns will line 330-pound DT Ahtyba Rubin over the center to clog the middle. The Browns allow 146.5 yards rushing because teams run at DEs Jabal Sheard and Jaymee Mitchell, who are more pass rushers than run stoppers. Sheard leads the team with 7 1/2 sacks. The Browns are tied for second in the league in pass defense (184.0 ypg), but part of the reason is because teams have so much success running against them.

Browns MLB D'Qwell Jackson ... The six-year pro out of Maryland leads the team and is second in the NFL with 145 tackles and should be the league's comeback player of the year. Jackson missed most of the past two seasons with a torn pectoral muscle -- he played only six games total -- but has not missed a game in 2011 and has been the steadiest player on a defense that ranks 10th overall in the NFL. Jackson missed 26 games in 2009 and '10, but he plays every down and has excelled in their 4-3 defense.

The Steelers won the first meeting, 14-3, Dec. 8 at Heinz Field and have won 15 of the past 16 and 20 of the past 22 meetings with the Browns, counting postseason. ... Mike Tomlin is 8-1 vs. the Browns since succeeding Bill Cowher. ... The Browns have lost five in a row and eight of their past nine under rookie coach Pat Shurmur. This is their first home game since Dec. 4. They are 3-4 at home. What's more, they are just 3-20 within the division the past three years. If they're looking for something positive, they are 4-1 in home season finales since 2002. ... The Steelers have won five of their past six games but are 4-3 on the road.

To win, the Browns must ...

1 Not make mistakes by the lake. The Steelers don't have a takeaway in the past two games after having 10 in the previous four.

2 Order a Rubin sandwich. They will need good interior line play against Rashard Mendenhall, who is coming off his best three-game stretch of the season.

3 Get Browns on Brown. Antonio Brown made the big play in the first meeting and could make another against a special-teams unit that has allowed three TDs.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1 Put Peyton in his place. Their run defense already has allowed three 100-yard rushers, the most since they allowed four in 2003.

2 Have dibs on Cribbs. He returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown against the Ravens, his first punt return for a TD since the 2009 season opener.

3 Not get sheared by Jabal. The former Pitt standout leads the team with 7 1/2 sacks and has improved against the run.

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01-01-2012, 01:11 PM
One of those guys said:

"When the Browns have the ball: QB Colt McCoy has not started since he got a concussion on a hit from James Harrison in the first meeting. He will be replaced by Seneca Wallace, who has a stronger arm and fresher legs than McCoy but has been plagued by bad decision-making in his past two starts. The Browns have scored only eight TDs in seven homes games and are always playing from behind. They have scored only three first-quarter TDs. And, after going the first 13 games without a TD in the third quarter, they have scored one in each of the past two games.

Does anyone else think the Browns are making the concussion card a much bigger issue than it warrants. UHH! The Browns fans media coaches prior to the Big C were considering a change there as wide spread disenchantment with McCoy was the theme in Dogsville. Convenient excuse?

Actually my anger with JHar's bad decision had more to do with him injuring a player who has not been having much success against the Steelers in the past than him actually committing a stupid penalty costing him a game.

Anyone remember someone knocking Neil O'Donnell out of the game a few years ago against the Tennessee Titans [probably the Houston Oilers then]. I recall cringing and cursing that play. His replacement promptly came in and demolishned a tiring Steelers D and won a very important game. I know injuries can't be avoided at times but an unneccessary extremely hard hit on a player who is playing not so hot is flat out stupid. Even moreso when the freaking hit is illegal.

01-01-2012, 02:49 PM
The Steelers' long walk back

The final Sunday: Steelers vs. Browns

Sunday, January 01, 2012
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


The Steelers can take another step toward erasing what has become their personal Super Bowl jinx -- the hangover that has followed each of their previous two Super Bowl appearances -- and make another emphatic statement about the direction of their tradition-rich franchise under Mike Tomlin.

In a season in which the light went on for a talented young playmaker named Antonio Brown and everything went black in San Francisco, over a span of 112 days in which their old and slow defense morphed like Benjamin Button into a unit more closely resembling young and unyielding, the Steelers find themselves on the precipice of historical significance in the very city in which they slinked to an embarrassing and unprecedented low two years ago.

Of more immediate importance is the potential for what can happen today in the state of Ohio when the Steelers (11-4) play in Cleveland against the Browns (4-11) and the Baltimore Ravens (11-4) play in Cincinnati against the playoff-hopeful Bengals (9-6) -- dueling AFC North games that will determine playoff seeding, travel schedules and, perhaps, a more palatable path to the Super Bowl.

But, as a subplot to the ramifications of what those results ultimately will mean, the Steelers can take another step toward erasing what has become their personal Super Bowl jinx -- the hangover that has followed each of their previous two Super Bowl appearances -- and make another emphatic statement about the direction of their tradition-rich franchise under Mike Tomlin.

With a victory today against the Browns, a team they have defeated 15 times in the past 16 meetings, the Steelers will have won 12 games for the second year in a row, an accomplishment they have managed only one other time in their storied history (1978-79).

What's more, it will mark the third time in the past four years they have won 12 games under Tomlin, something no other team can claim in that same period. In fact, the only active coach to win 12 or more games three times in a four-year span is Bill Belichick, who did it twice since becoming the New England Patriots coach in 2000.

"After both Super Bowl trips here, we didn't make the playoffs," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, referring to the seasons following the Steelers' Super Bowl victories in 2005 and '08. "For this group, in this season, with the lockout and everything, it's a good measuring stick to stack 12 wins two years in a row."

The Steelers finished 8-8 in '06 after their victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL and 9-7 in '09 after beating the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. In each instance, they missed the playoffs.

The '09 season was so miserable that, after a 6-2 start, the Steelers lost five consecutive games -- three of which came against the league's bottom-feeders.

The ultimate indignity came on a bitter cold night in Cleveland when the Steelers lost to the Browns, 13-6, in one of the most dispirited performances in recent memory.

Since that loss to the Browns, the Steelers have embarked on something of an incredible journey, winning 26 regular-season games -- more than any other team in that span except the Patriots.

Today, they return to the scene of the crime, needing a victory -- against a team that has lost five games in a row -- to finish 12-4, a record they hope will be good enough to win the AFC North.

"I remember when I came into the league, Jim Fassel said our goal is to go 3-1 every quarter," safety Ryan Clark said, referring to his head coach when he was with the New York Giants. "He said if we were 3-1 every quarter, we'd be 12-4 and we'd give ourselves a chance to be in playoffs and maybe have a home game. That's what I came in learning. And, being here, I believe it. The 12-4 seasons we've had, we've been to the Super Bowl."

This was no 2009

Super Bowl hangovers are nothing new, especially for the losers.

Since 1985, only three of the 25 losing teams in the Super Bowl have won 12 or more games the following season -- the 2000 Tennessee Titans (13-3), the 1993 Buffalo Bills (12-4) and the '91 Bills (13-3).

The Steelers can become the fourth -- and the first in 11 years -- by beating the Browns.


"It should be for us, the way we've come out after the Super Bowl years," said defensive captain James Farrior. "It hasn't been our history to have that many wins after a Super Bowl appearance."

The Steelers slipped into some form of hangover after their Super Bowl victories in '05 and '08 and needed a strong finish to help erase some of the bad taste from their performance.

In '06, they started 2-6, in part because of a tumultuous offseason in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in a motorcycle accident in June, had an emergency appendectomy the week leading up to the season opener, then got a concussion in an overtime loss in Atlanta in Week 7. They had to win six of their final eight games -- the only losses were to the Ravens -- to finish 8-8.

In '09, they overcame a 1-2 start to win five in a row, putting them at 6-2 and seemingly back in form for another run at the Super Bowl. But, in a stretch that was as unexplainable as it was inexcusable, the Steelers lost five in a row, including games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Browns. At the time, none of those teams had more than two victories.

There has been none of that this time, though maybe for a different reason.

The Steelers did not win the Super Bowl this time. They lost to the Green Bay Packers, 31-25, a game in which they committed three turnovers that resulted in 21 points.

To many of the veteran players, the loss made it feel as if they never even made it to the Super Bowl.

"We lost the game," Farrior said. "It doesn't really count for anything when you lose. It was just like another year when we didn't get to the Super Bowl."

"I'd rather not go if you're going to lose it," Clark said. "That's not what we play for. We play to win Super Bowls."

After the game, the Steelers insisted they would use the loss as motivation for 2011 -- a refrain dissimilar to most Super Bowl losers who utter such catchphrases as a "learning experience" or "something to build on."

But, when they committed seven turnovers in the season opener in Baltimore -- giving them 10 in two games -- it looked as if the only motivation gleaned from Super Bowl XLV was how to make more mistakes. Their 35-7 loss to the Ravens caused many to question the age, speed and desire of their defense -- the same defense that heading into the final weekend is ranked No. 1 overall, No. 1 against the pass and No. 2 in points allowed in the NFL.

Now, after a 1-2 start and injuries to many of their key players, including Roethlisberger, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers are back in the postseason and on the cusp of back-to-back 12-win seasons. With a victory by the Bengals, the Steelers could win their 21st division title and gain a more advantageous path to the Super Bowl -- provided they beat the Browns.

"I think our veteran players came back with a sense of urgency," Arians said. "They weren't going to allow it to happen again. We got great veteran leadership on this team. They took a bunch of young guys and made sure through training camp that we made up for our lost time and were ready to go."

Said veteran receiver Hines Ward, in his 14th season with the Steelers: "I think guys were singularly focused just coming back and getting the opportunity to see if we can make it back to the Super Bowl. We had some young guys step up and make some plays, but we still kept some of the veteran guys around who are still making plays. And here we are, going into the last game of the year, with an opportunity to try to win our division and hopefully get that first-round bye."

12 wins nice, but ...

Another 12-win season is a nice accomplishment for a team with more Super Bowl trophies (6) than any other franchise in the league.

But, if they beat the Browns and don't get any help from the Bengals, who need to beat the Ravens for the Steelers to win the division, the significance of the achievement might be diminished.

"Winning 12 games and being the fifth seed is nothing to be proud about," Ward said. "Our whole goal is to win the division. If Baltimore controls what they do, and we do what we do and we end up being the fifth seed and we got to go on the road, that's kind of not what we had planned. But if that's how it turns out, and that's the cards we're dealt, we'll have to handle it."


As it stands now, the Steelers will enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. However, they can still win ...

THE AFC NORTH -- and the No. 2 seed -- if they beat the Browns today and the Ravens lose in Cincinnati.

THE NO. 1 SEED if they beat the Browns and the Ravens lose in Cincinnati and the Patriots lose to Buffalo.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12001/12 ... z1iEJwHDq4 (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/12001/1200578-66-0.stm#ixzz1iEJwHDq4)