Although the Christmas spirit seemed to drown out the atmosphere of football while making the routine walk to Heinz Field, there was an immense bounty to lose on the game when the Pittsburgh Steelers played holiday host to the St. Louis Rams.
The Steelers where trailing the Baltimore Ravens by tiebreaker with one game remaining, with both teams traveling to Ohio next week, facing division opponents.
"Our fans might be rooting for the Bengals (Cincinnati) but we got to take care of our own business because if we don’t, it doesn’t even matter” said Steelers third-year defensive end Ziggy Hood.
The Steelers square off against the Cleveland Browns for the 119th contest between the two teams with a 23-35 lifetime record on the road versus the Browns, while the Ravens head west to take on the Bengals, who 1-4 overall in their last five are meeting at Paul Brown Stadium, in Cincinnati. The recipe for home-field advantage for the playoffs is simple for Pittsburgh—beat Cleveland and have Cincinnati beat Baltimore.
Posting their second shutout of the season (27-0), the Steelers improved to 11-4 overall, and with the final game at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the focus now turns to the health of the Steelers. Nursing a sore left ankle, starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sat the Rams game out, leaving 14-year veteran Charlie Batch to guide the Steelers to their 11th win of the season.
The win enables them to have a shot at a bye week if the Ravens lose next week to the Bengals. “I thought he did some really good things (Charlie Batch). His performance has no bearing on how we go about making the decisions that are right for us this week. A lot of the decisions center around Roethlisberger’s health. But I like the way Batch played, not only the way he performed but the way he led and communicated” said head coach Mike Tomlin.
It was obvious that the Steelers would look to take advantage of the Rams 32nd-ranked rushing defense. Star running back Rashard Mendenhall was to carry the load with Roethlisberger out, and he delivered, carving out 116 for his second game over the century mark this season.
Tomlin said “guys were doing a nice job of opening up holes for him. It takes 11 men to run the football effectively, up front, the quarterback and play fakes after the handoff, and even the receivers on the perimeter. I thought all our guys on offense did a nice job in the run game today.”
"We are excited about meeting this week’s challenges, and bringing our regular season to a close on the road against the Cleveland Browns,” said Tomlin, adding that “we will make the necessary adjustments. All the other guys that have existing injuries or missed the last performance due to injury are all in play as we sit here today. LaMarr Woodley, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Emmanuel Sanders all have shots at playing. Hopefully we will get those guys back.”
Getting those guys back and healthy will be key, as for any team advancing to the playoffs, but securing a bye week and home-field advantage might be the price the Steelers have to pay this week against their once top rival.
Under the direction of Tomlin, the Steelers have won at least 11 games in four out of the last five seasons while making the playoffs in four of those five as well—not to mention two visits to the Super Bowl.
Since 2007, the Steelers are haven’t played a single road playoff game, going 4-1 in the confines of Heinz Field, and have won their last four games during the five-game playoff stretch.
The Cleveland Browns will be playing for pride and the pride of their fans—putting a dent in anything to benefit the Steelers football team would likely be the highlight of a season that has seen the Browns at the bottom of the AFC North for the third time in the last four seasons.
Cleveland fans remember very vividly the 2009 Thursday night game when the 1-11 Browns upset the Steelers 13-6, helping to eliminate the playoff hopes of the Steelers and giving the Browns their first win over Pittsburgh since 2004, going 1-15 over that span.
The Browns will be looking the play spoilers, while the Steelers can’t afford to look ahead with one of their famed rivals hungry, playing nothing to lose and everything to take away from their division foe.
Bo Marchionte is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.