Steelers Gut Out Win at Cleveland, Clinch 5 Seed in AFC Playoffs, Will Travel to Denver
It seemed almost fitting for a year in which the Steelers couldn't exploit opportunities to get past AFC North Rival Baltimore.
At approximately the same time, Pittsburgh's Isaac Redman fumbled during a drive that could have sealed a win and Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham fumbled for Cincinnati, who was driving on Baltimore down 17-13.
Pittsburgh ended up taking home a 13-9 victory, but Baltimore used that turnover to grab a 24-13 lead. Cincinnati's comeback fell short, and the teams flipped playoff positions from a year ago.
Cincinnati also clinched a playoff spot despite the loss. It is the first time three teams from the AFC North have been in the playoffs. The Bengals will travel to Houston in the Wild Card round.
The Steelers suffered another rash of injuries, the most concerning to RB Rashard Mendenhall, who left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. Early reports on his status do not look good, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Mendenhall is "doubtful or worse" for next week.
It was a tough defensive battle, unfortunately marred by injuries to Mendenhall, TE David Johnson, RG Ramon Foster and CB Cortez Allen. Even with that pall hanging over the 12-4 Steelers, they did lock up the league's top scoring defense, besting San Francisco by just two points (227 to 229). Pittsburgh has allowed nine points or less in each of their last five victories.
The injuries will be the compelling story this week, and much of it will surround FS Ryan Clark (who became the team's top tackler for 2011. Clark has a blood disorder which reacts poorly in high altitude environments. It flared up during a game in Denver in 2007, and the result of it was Clark missing the rest of the season and losing his spleen and gall bladder.
Clark did not make the last trip the team made to Denver in 2009. It stands to reason he won't be at this game either, moving Ryan Mundy into the starting lineup.
Clark and the defense thoroughly dominated Cleveland for much of the game, and more the issue in the win was the lack of explosion and movement from the offensive side of the ball. QB Ben Roethlisberger did not look comfortable, failed to step into many of his throws and missed open receivers several times. It didn't seem like the plan was to have Roethlisberger throw 40 times (he completed 23 of them), but Mendenhall's injury seemed to shift that plan to the forefront.
It did help Steelers WR Hines Ward get his historic 1,000th career reception - a shovel pass for -3 yards - in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers survived a last-second hail mary pass from Seneca Wallace, but their post-season fate was already sealed after Cincinnati's last-second pass also fell incomplete.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
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