New Year’s Day brought immense winds with a good dose of lake effect snow on the way to Cleveland Browns Stadium as the Browns played host to their rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Mother Nature having her way in downtown Cleveland, it was obvious that for a series that has seen one team score 10 points or less in the last eight meetings, seeming far fetched with the ensuing weather was the scoreboard being lit up by either offense.
With a Steelers win, they would find themselves receiving the bye week in conjunction with the Baltimore Ravens losing on the road to the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens would beat Cincinnati, 24-16, to win the AFC North, leaving the Steelers to go on the road next week versus the Denver Broncos.
“It’s going to be wild,” said defensive end Brett Keisel, adding:
“Denver is going to be pumped to get a playoff game back there. It’s going to be wild and crazy like the playoffs always are.”
Since Mike Tomlin has taken over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007, the team has made the playoffs in four of those five seasons, but will mark the first time the Steelers travel on the road for a playoff game after finishing second in the AFC North.
Remember, the last time the Steelers went on the road for the playoffs, they won three in a row and advanced to Super Bowl XL, where Pittsburgh won, 21-10, over the Seattle Seahawks. Before the Steelers head west to take on Denver and Tim Tebow mania, they had their own game to finish that placed them 12-4 on the season. Note that in each season under Tomlin, when the Steelers have finished 12-4, they have advanced to the Super Bowl.
Cleveland would score the first points of the game after the Steelers' Shaun Suisham missed the games first field goal attempt from 45 yards. The Browns would take the next drive 10 plays for 57 yards, with Phil Dawson connecting on a 26-yard field goal with 6:03 in the second quarter. Dawson is now eighth overall in field goals made by active kickers with 276.
"I gave my heart and soul to this team this year and I feel pretty good about it,” Dawson said.
Suisham would connect from 19 yards as time elapsed in the second quarter to leave the first half 6-3, with Cleveland on top.
The only significant news from the first half was the impending health of Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who hurt his right knee while being untouched near the end of the first quarter. Mendenhall would be on crutches.
“Potentially, we need to take a look at it,” said Tomlin in regards to if Mendenhall has a potential ACL tear, adding: “It’s not good, of course, when a guy goes down in open grass not touched by anyone. Experience tells me that generally that’s not good.”
Mendenhall would not return to the game, finishing with 38 yards that left him 72 yards shy of his third straight 1,000-yard season.
Steelers back-up Isaac Redman gave the Steelers their first lead of the game with 5:27 left in the third quarter with a seven-yard touchdown. The score put Pittsburgh ahead 13-6, which was the exact final of the game when the Browns beat the Steelers at Cleveland Stadium in 2009, their only win over Pittsburgh since 2004. Redman would finish with 19 carries for 92 yards and the game's only touchdown.
While the pouring-down rain from halftime turned into gusting snow flurries during the fourth quarter, the Steelers would hold down the lead and finish off Cleveland, winning 16 of the last 17 games between to two.
Keisel said the team was aiming to finish No. 1 overall, adding “that was a goal for us this year, to be No. 1."
After holding the Browns to three field goals, the Steelers accomplished the mission, ranking at the top in total defense.
Maurkice Pouncey, who spent his collegiate career with Denver’s Tim Tebow, winning two BCS Bowl Championships, said “probably deal with 100 questions like that,” (laughing) in response to his defensive coordinators picking his brain for tips on how to slow down Tebow.
“Green Bay (Packers) did it last year, didn’t they?” asked James Farrior in response to the Steelers winning on the road in the 2011 NFL playoffs, adding “The Giants (New York) did it; seems like every other year, somebody is doing it.”
Farrior admitted that they made it harder on themselves being forced to travel to Denver, but added “If you want to get to the Super Bowl, you got to win all the games anyway, but that’s what good teams do; they win on the road.”
Those dreaded words for every team usually that advances to postseason play in "on the road."
In his sixth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, safety Ryan Clark said “we’re a definitely a different team on the road,” with Pittsburgh finishing 4-3 overall in road games, with Clark adding:
“I don’t know even remember beating a very good team on the road yet, and I don’t know if we beat anybody that’s going to be in the playoffs on the road.”
When checking over the numbers, the Steelers did in fact beat one playoff team on the road this season, and that was the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 13 by the score of 24-17.
Next week, Steelers Nation will collide head on with Tebow Mania, and the resolve of this veteran team from the Steel City will be tested by the late heroics of Denver’s quarterback.
Bo Marchionte is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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