Pittsburgh Steelers tune up for playoffs with OT win vs. Cleveland Browns

By Alan Robinson, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 2, 2017 at 12:40 AM
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers rested their varsity, and really had no reason to beat the Cleveland Browns. So, they allowed the Browns to beat themselves against a cast of Steelers players who have mostly been on the bench all season.

Landry Jones threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton in overtime and the Steelers, in a game that meant nothing to them, won their seventh in a row by rallying past the mistake-prone Browns 27-24 on Sunday, after Cleveland blew a two-touchdown lead and two chances to win the game.

"Football is a game of winning, and we took care of business," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who rested multiple key starters to keep them healthy for the postseason.

However, football isn't a game of winning for the Browns (1-15), who secured the No. 1 spot in the NFL Draft yet go into the offseason off yet another loss -- their 30th in their last 34 games against Pittsburgh.

"1-15? I never thought we'd be that in a million years," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "I don't like to be associated with that and we're going to fix this as fast as we can. I don't want to feel like this again."

The Browns were in a position to win it in regulation when Robert Griffin III completed a 48-yard pass to former Pittsburgh high school star Terrelle Pryor Sr. to the Steelers' 5 in the final minute of the fourth quarter. But instead of running down the clock with 1:12 remaining and kicking a chip-shot field goal to win it, the Browns ran the ball, Isaiah Crowell fumbled at the 3-yard line, and the Steelers (11-5) recovered -- the Browns' second turnover inside the 20.

Cleveland later had a first-and-goal at the Steelers' 2 in overtime during a 65-yard drive to start the extra period, only to inexplicably run a screen pass to Andrew Hawkins that lost 14 yards. They were forced then to settle for Cody Parkey's 34-yard field goal.

Asked about the screen play, which the Browns ran several times and clearly didn't fool the Steelers, Jackson said, "They made a play. That's all I can say. They made a play."

Jones, who was 24 of 37 for 277 yards and three scores, then led the Steelers downfield for the game-winning touchdown, made possible when he completed a 6-yard pass to DeMarcus Ayers on a fourth-and-2 from the Browns' 32, as Pittsburgh passed up a game-tying field goal for the chance to win.

"That's a play we run a lot in practice with Jones," Hamilton said. "It's nothing special. It's just a play we run in practice."

The Steelers, who are third-seeded in the AFC and will play the Miami Dolphins (10-6) next weekend at Heinz Field, rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to take a 21-14 lead on backup quarterback Jones' 11-yard touchdown pass to Ayers with 5:21 remaining.

But the Browns offense, quiet since midway through the second quarter, came back to tie it at 21 with a 68-yard drive ended by George Atkinson with 3:33 remaining, then were in position to win it -- twice. But against the Steelers, twice isn't always enough for the Browns.

"But no one in this locker room is a loser," said Griffin, who came back from a serious shoulder injury to play the final four games. "Everyone here has been 'the man' at some point. Our job is to help make them 'the man' in the NFL."

The Browns haven't won in Pittsburgh since 2003 -- a year before Ben Roethlisberger took over as Steelers quarterback -- and they got off to a promising start by opening a 14-0 lead behind Griffin, who threw touchdown passes of 12 yards to tight end Seth DeValve and 4 yards to tight end Garry Barnidge.

Barnidge made only his second touchdown catch this season after having nine a year ago, when he was a Pro Bowl player. Griffin ended 29 of 40 for 232 yards and an interception, and Crowell led all rushers with 152 yards on 19 carries.

But, as usual against the Steelers, the lead quickly got away from Cleveland after that, even though AFC North champion Pittsburgh sat out key starters such as Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, running back Le'Veon Bell and center Maurice Pouncey.

The Steelers finally scored late in the first half, after a shotgun snap by new Browns center Anthony Fabiano -- making his first NFL start -- sailed over Griffin's head and Steelers safety Sean Davis, Pittsburgh's rookie of the year, recovered.

That mistake led to DeAngelo Williams' 11-yard catch-and-run touchdown only 39 seconds before halftime, making it 14-7 even though the Steelers had only 52 yards in the first half.

The Browns, trying for their first two-game winning streak since midway through the 2014 season, appeared to go up 20-7 when defensive back Brian Body-Calhoun intercepted a too-high Jones pass and returned it 68 yards for a touchdown. But, after a replay review, it was ruled Boddy-Calhoun fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line and into the end zone for a touchback, and the Steelers regained possession.

"That might have been the play of the game, Hey-Bey (wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey) chasing that guy (Body-Calhoun) down," Jones said.

Yet another Browns mistake led to an 80-yard Steelers touchdown drive that featured runs of 7, 11 and 12 yards by Williams, who finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Williams ran for 67 yards and had touchdowns as a receiver and a rusher.

NOTES: Steelers QB Landry Jones, in his fourth season and a free agent after this season, started his second game of the season and the fourth of his career. He also started against the Patriots on Oct. 23. ... Pouncey was the only Steelers offensive line starter who didn't start. ... The Browns started Fabiano at center and moved usual starting C Cam Erving, a first round pick in 2015, to right tackle. Erving was lifted in the second half with a knee injury, and Jackson said afterward it didn't look good. ... Browns coach Hue Jackson called the offensive plays. ... Steelers DL Javon Hargrave left with a possible concussion in the second half. ... Pryor, a longtime QB in his first season as a wide receiver, went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark. ... The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 earlier in the season.

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