Steelers escape with 13-9 win over Browns

By Tom Withers

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Cleveland.

Amy Sancetta, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — They're bruised, limping and not close to being healthy. The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't themselves.

But they are going to the playoffs.

At this point, that's all that matters.

Isaac Redman replaced injured starting running back Rashard Mendenhall and scored a touchdown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made enough big plays on his sprained ankle and Pittsburgh hobbled into the postseason with a wind-whipped 13-9 win Sunday over Cleveland, the Steelers' 16th victory in 17 games against the Browns.

Redman scored on a 7-yard run in the third quarter for the Steelers (12-4), who finished tied with Baltimore for first in the AFC North but lost the tiebreaker because the Ravens beat them twice. Pittsburgh needed to win and hope Cincinnati could knock off the Ravens, who beat the Bengals 24-16.

But the Steelers are in the playoffs as a wild card and will face Tim Tebow and the Broncos in Denver next week.

"Now is the time to go out and play our best football," said Roethlisberger, who went 23 of 40 for 221 yards on his gimpy left ankle. "If you are a great team, you have to win on the road. We'd like to get it together, starting next week. We have not been able to put it all together yet this year, whether because of injury, weather, a lot of factors."

The Steelers may be without Mendenhall, their leading rusher.

He was hurt on the final play of the first quarter, when he went down after a 5-yard gain and immediately grabbed his right knee. Mendenhall walked slowly to the sideline, slapping hands with some teammates on his way to the bench. He didn't return.

After the game, Mendenhall left the stadium on crutches, his head hanging in disappointment.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it sound as if Mendenhall could miss the postseason.

"It's not good, of course, when a guy goes down in open grass and is not touched by anyone," Tomlin said. "Experience tells me that in general that's not good."

Tomlin said Mendenhall would be examined when the team gets home.

"You should anticipate that he won't be participating next week," Tomlin said.

The Steelers survived two fumbles by Redman in the second half and then held their breath on the final play when Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace floated a pass into a crowd in the back of the end zone. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu came over the top and got his hand on the ball before rookie wide receiver Greg Little could grab it, allowing the Steelers to escape.

The Browns (4-12) lost their last six games and nine of 10 under first-year coach Pat Shurmur. Cleveland was competitive — the Browns lost their final three games by a combined 13 points — but wound up with one less win that last season.

"We intended to win a lot more games than that," said cornerback Joe Haden. "The only thing that kept us going is we didn't really get blown out in any games. We need to find a way to come up with a big play, come up with the big stop, the big score and the season would be totally different."

Shaun Suisham made two field goals for the Steelers, who won 12 games for the second year in a row, something they haven't done since 1978-79. They won the Super Bowl both those years.

Motivated by losing last season's Super Bowl to Green Bay, Pittsburgh opened the season by getting blown out by Baltimore. But the Steelers recovered and will now make another run at a Lombardi Trophy.

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