Steelers top Browns, but miss out on playoffs
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Everything went the Steelers' way early, but a late Chargers win sealed Pittsburgh's fate as an outsider looking in on the postseason.
Pittsburgh had slim playoff hopes coming in but did its part by cruising past the Cleveland Browns, 20-7, and were on the brink of sneaking in when the Dolphins and Ravens were eliminated from contention with losses on Sunday.
San Diego, though, stole the AFC's final wild card spot with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Chiefs, keeping the Steelers (8-8) as spectators for the playoffs for a second straight year.
Pittsburgh was trying to become just the second team to reach the postseason following an 0-4 start.
"I'm proud of the group and their ability to stay focused," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's been a trying journey but a rewarding one."
In the finale, Le'Veon Bell totaled 96 yards from scrimmage and amassed 1,259 on the season, giving him the franchise rookie record previously set by Franco Harris in 1972.
"It's an honor to even be in the same category with Franco Harris, one of the greatest runners to come through here," Bell said. "Just to be mentioned with him is a great accomplishment."
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 179 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Steelers, who have won 10 consecutive home games against the Browns.
Cleveland (4-12) finished another forgettable campaign with seven straight losses. Jason Campbell completed just 23-of-41 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Josh Gordon ended his huge campaign with a relatively quiet seven catches for 82 yards.
Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski was fired Sunday night after just one year at the helm.
"It was a difficult day. It's been a difficult season," said Chudzinski.
"Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there's an urgency for success," the Browns said in a statement Sunday night. "When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward."
The Browns had a mere 97 yards of offense in the first half, but had 104 in third quarter and reached the red zone on the final play before the fourth.
The promising drive, however, went for naught.
Edwin Baker was stuffed short of a first down on 3rd-and-1 and Campbell's jump ball intended for Gordon fell incomplete in the end zone to turn the ball over on downs for the third time in the game.
Shaun Suisham's 32-yard field goal put the Steelers on top, 20-0, with 8:26 remaining, and Fozzy Whittaker's 35-yard touchdown off a screen pass on one of Cleveland's final possessions spoiled the Steelers' bid for a shutout.
Pittsburgh went 62 yards in nine plays on its opening drive and jumped in front on Roethlisberger's 9-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery, who kept the drive alive with a 12-yard reception on 3rd-and-10.
Cleveland had the ball in Pittsburgh territory three times in the first half. Campbell was picked off once, threw an incomplete pass on fourth down the next trip down, and the team opted to punt the ball away at the Pittsburgh 33-yard line late in the half.
The punt, which netted just 13 yards when it went into the end zone, followed a lengthy 14-play, 67-yard trek that saw Pittsburgh chew up over eight minutes off the clock. Bell carried the load and barreled into the end zone from five yards out to give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead going into the break.
Suisham extended Pittsburgh's lead with a 30-yard field goal with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter.
The Steelers have not had a losing season since 2003 ... With nine catches for 87 yards, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown became the first player in NFL history to record at least five receptions and 50 yards in all 16 games of a season ...Brown finished second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,499) behind Gordon's 1,646 ... Roethlisberger improved to 17-1 against the Browns ... Baker gained 69 yards on 18 carries.
12/29 21:53:16 ET