For the second time in 364 days the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to close their season by reaching 8-8 with a win over the Cleveland Browns.
As it was last year, this looked to be Steelers Nation’s chance to say farewell to a number of Super Bowl veterans. While this symmetries make for a nice narrative, the true story lies in the differences between the Steelers situation now, and that of December 30th 2012.
- First, unlike 2012, the Steelers had a thread-the-needle-on-a-roller coaster chance at making the playoffs.
A Steelers playoff appearance after the 0-4 start would have rivaled the comeback made by Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers. While that have would been nice, alas, it was not to be.
- The real difference is in the direction the team is heading.
The 2012 Steelers started at 6-2 and finished 2-6. The 2013 Steelers have reversed that result. And perhaps more encouragingly, they’ve done so largely on the backs of emerging talent, which was evident in the win over the Browns.
Browns Offer Spirited Fight
Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have largely been the NFL’s doormat, save for a burst of competiveness under Butch Davis in 2002 and a tease at in in 2007. But aside from that the Browns have been drafting well, and adding quality players to their roster.
- The wise money in the AFC North has been that at some point the Browns would awaken.
That awakening did not occur in 2013, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from putting up a strong fight against the Steelers. While the Steelers offense might not have transformed itself into a juggernaut, the Browns held Pittsburgh to 20 points, and they did so on a day when their offense could do next to nothing.
The Steelers opened the game as Ben Roethlisberger directed a drive with machine line efficiency highlighted by a 24 yard pass to Antonio Brown and a 9 yard touchdown strike to Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone.
Cleveland appeared to be putting a similar drive together of its own, when Brett Keisel, in what is probably his final game as a Steeler, stripped Jason Campbell of the ball and Chris Carter recovered. The Steelers could not convert, as Roethlisberger threw an interception. The Browns however could not capitalize on the repossession, when their attempt on 4th and four failed.
The two teams traded three and outs, when the Steelers put together what was to be the definitive drive of the game, and one that perhaps previews what is to come in 2014.
- Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 7 times and gained 41 yards as the Pittsburgh Steelers imposed their will on the Browns.
The drive consumed 8:17 off of the clock, and ended with a 5 yard touchdown run by Bell. Although Ben Roethlisberger hit Brown and Jonathan Dwyer on the drive with quick passes, the drive belonged to Bell, the young rookie who drew compraisons to Franco Harris before even touching the ball in preseason, ended up tying Franco’s total yards from scrimmage record before the day was over.
Saluting to the Past, Turning Towards the Future
CBS provided Steelers Nation with a great shot at the end of the game – Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, and Ryan Clark all seated on the bench together. As mentioned earlier, all three could be gone by next year.
- It is fitting then that those three combined to for 15 total tackles and one of the team’s three sacks.
- …But they didn’t do it alone, which is the important factoid to take out of the game.
Jarvis Jones led the team in tackles, and added in one for a loss and a pass defense. In some ways, Jones play in this finale brought back memories of Polamalu’s play in ’03 finale when he was a rookie
Lawrence Timmons was right behind Jones, and was all over the field as he has been all year, getting drive ending sack, tackling people behind the line of scrimmage, and defending a pass.
Cameron Heyward was back to his wrecking crew routine, registering a sack, stopping people for losses, and getting to the quarterback two other times.
Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert only allowed one sack – completing one of the all time in-season turnarounds in NFL history.
Steelers 2014 Offseason Now Begins
The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the day needing a win. They got it. They needed Baltimore and Miami to lose. Both lost.
But Kansas City’s back ups, with nothing to gain, came close to beating San Diego, but alas they came up short. (Sorry, I did NOT see the runner’s knee down before the ball popped out on the fake punt; his helmet apparently popped off before he crossed the line. Another NFL blunder.)
For the second consecutive year, the Steelers finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs, which is a disappointment in a city that measures success in Super Bowls.
- But this group of Pittsburgh Steelers has ever reason to hang their heads high.
This is a team that started 0-4 and then 2-6. From those ashes a team that couldn’t protect its quarterback, hold on to the ball, pressure opposing quarterbacks or create turnovers transformed itself into a team that was playing playoff caliber football.
And for that, Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation, and every member of the Steelers organization should be proud.