CLEVELAND (AP) — They’re the last team to qualify for the AFC playoffs, but the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t care about their seeding.
They’re in. And they’re dangerous.
Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, Pittsburgh’s defense recorded seven sacks and the Steelers, sometimes sloppy, sometimes superb, slipped into the postseason with a 28-12 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, whose season ended with yet another coaching and front-office overhaul.
After a stunning loss last week in Baltimore, the Steelers (10-6) were in a predicament. In order to prolong their season, they had to beat the Browns (3-13) and get help from the Buffalo Bills against the New York Jets to seize a wild-card spot prolong their season.
Pittsburgh pulled off its parlay on the Great Lakes.
“It’s been a tough, 16-week fight for us, but we’re where we want to be,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re where we need to be.”
The Steelers will face the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday in the third meeting this season between the AFC North rivals, who exchanged shoves and worse in their most recent meeting.
As Pittsburgh was closing out another win over the rival Browns, Roethlisberger heard the crowd roar without anything happening on the field. He looked up and saw thousands of Steelers fans waving their Terrible Towels while reacting to the news from Orchard Park, New York, that the Bills had helped them out.
“I assumed there was a fight or a Steelers fan was beating up a Browns fan,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of thanks to coach (Rex) Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo. I know they’re excited about 8-8 and we’re excited they got us in.”
Pittsburgh’s bumpy season — the Steelers overcame suspensions, injuries and the shocking loss to the Ravens — will continue with at least one more game. As usual, Roethlisberger did his part, throwing for 349 yards, including 187 to Antonio Brown, the seemingly un-coverable wide receiver who had had 13 catches and a TD.
The Steelers will enter the playoffs as a sixth seed, a scary sixth seed.
When they’re on their game, the Steelers can beat anyone. The Roethlisberger-to-Brown connection is as lethal as any in the game, and Pittsburgh’s defense, which forced four turnovers and kept the Browns out of the end zone, can still shut down an opponent.
They’ve taken the long road to the Super Bowl before, and the Steelers are grateful they get to take another trip.
When Buffalo completed its win over the Jets, the Steelers began hugging and high-fiving on the sideline. The black-and-gold had earned the right to play for the NFL championship in the Super Bowl’s golden anniversary season.
“It’s so gratifying,” said Brown, who finished with 136 catches for 1,834 yards. “Sitting here as a Pittsburgh Steeler, that’s the expectation to make the playoffs and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. We continue to stay together no matter what people say.”
For the Browns (3-13), another dreadful season ended in shambles. Hours after the home finale, owner Jimmy Haslam fired both coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer. Pettine went 10-22 during his two-year stint, losing 18 of his final 21 games.
Haslam will immediately begin the search for a new coach, Cleveland’s eighth since 1999.
“It’s a bottom-line business and we lost,” Haslam said.
Here are five other takeaways from the Steelers’ playoff-sealing win:
WILLIAMS INJURED: Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams left the stadium in a walking boot after injuring his right ankle in the first half. Williams will be re-evaluated Monday and Tomlin said he would not rule him out against the Bengals.
SEARCH STARTED: With help from a consulting firm, Haslam intends to first hire his new coach and then find a GM. Among the coaching candidates expected to receive interviews this week are Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Jacksonville offensive assistant Doug Marrone.
Haslam also promoted Sashi Brown, formerly executive vice president/general counsel, as his director of football operations with control over the 53-man roster.
BROWN’S RECORDS: Brown became the first player in league history with consecutive 125-catch seasons. He also broke his single-season club records for receptions and yards.
WHERE’S JOHNNY?: The Browns couldn’t confirm a report that quarterback Johnny Manziel was in Las Vegas. Haslam said Manziel failed to report to the team’s headquarters on Sunday for concussion treatment.
Manziel’s second season was better than his rookie year, but he remains a work in progress. Haslam was non-committal about Manziel’s future with the Browns, but hinted that a young quarterback is on the team’s radar.
“We do have the second pick in the draft,” he said.
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