Steelers keep hopes alive
Le'Veon Bell ran for 90 yards and a touchdown and Pittsburgh maintained their unlikely pursuit of a play-off berth by drubbing the lifeless Cleveland Browns 20-7 on Sunday.
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After both Baltimore and Miami lost, the Steelers now know they will sneak in if San Diego lose to Kansas City in one of the later kick-offs.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for 179 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions as Pittsburgh (8-8) won their third straight game to avoid the franchise's first losing season since 2003. The victory also continued a furious second-half rally by the Steelers, who went 6-2 over the season's final eight weeks to fuel an improbable run at the AFC's final post-season spot.
Jason Campbell completed 23 of 40 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown, but the Browns (4-12) lost their seventh game in a row, fuelling speculation first-year coach Rob Chudzinski's job could be in jeopardy.
The Browns didn't do Chudzinski any favors, barely putting up much fight while losing to their rivals for the 26th time in the last 31 meetings since the franchise was revived in 1999. Cleveland were largely uncompetitive over the season's final three months, losing 10 of 11, with seven losses by a touchdown or more, including two to the Steelers by a combined 47-18.
Cleveland's front office declined to address Chudzinski's job status, releasing a statement saying the team's focus was on the game and that the club "will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week."
There is no widespread panic in Pittsburgh. A season that appeared teetering on embarrassment after a 55-31 loss to New England on November 3 ended up with a decidedly rosier finish.
The Steelers scored on the opening drive, a nine-yard strike from Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery, and it was more than enough. Whenever the Browns threatened, they found a way to botch it. Twice they failed on fourth-down attempts in Pittsburgh territory and didn't reach the end zone until Campbell found Fozzy Whitaker on a 35-yard pass with 2:46 remaining.
By then most of the attention had turned to the scoreboard, where the biggest roars were saved for scores by the Bengals and Jets, who then won to boost Pittsburgh's play-off chances.
The rapid development of Bell helped Pittsburgh's remarkable turnaround. He broke Hall of Famer Franco Harris' team record for total yards from scrimmage by a rookie by combining for 96 yards in the muck at Heinz Field.
Bell's five-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter, which included a nifty spin move in the backfield, gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead at the break. It capped an 87-yard drive in which Bell touched the ball 10 times in 14 plays.
That was more than enough for a defense that appeared rejuvenated, sacking Campbell three times.
Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon caught seven passes for 82 yards to almost certainly become the first Browns player to lead the NFL in yards receiving. But it was of little solace on a day Cleveland looked very much like the same old Browns.