Pittsburgh, PA - In what was essentially a practice game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, with nothing to lose but Romeo Crennel's job, they put an exclamation point on the season with a 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
The victory gives the Steelers the sweep of the AFC North division, the first since 2000, and a confidence booster.
The defense played stellar, not only shutting out the Browns' offense, but holding them to a total of 126 yards and only eight first downs.
The Steelers defense prevented the Browns from crossing midfield with one exception ending in a missed field goal by Phil Dawson.
However, the game wasn't entirely perfect as the Steelers saw their starting quarterback, Ben Roehtlisberger, go down late in the second quarter and leave the game with a concussion. Roethlisberger finished 9-14 and 110 yards with an interception before getting injured.
The Steelers started off a slow first quarter, much like the rest of the season, and were becoming frustrated quickly with the lack of offense, defined by the punt on the first drive and the redzone interception on the second.
With 5:35 left in the first half, Willie Parker capped off the three-play drive with a 34-yard touchdown run—the longest of the season. Parker moved to eight on the Steelers all-time rushing touchdowns with 24 passing Rocky Bleir. Parker continued to run for 116 yards total on the day.
After another Cleveland three-and-out, the Steelers began their march downfield engineered by Ben Roethlisberger. With the two minute warning approaching, Ben dumped the ball off to tight end Heath Miller before being hit hard by outside linebacker Willie McGinest. Roethlisberger lay motionless on the field for 15 minutes before getting carted off and diagnosed with a concussion.
Backup Byron Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger and capped the drive off with an eight yard scramble that was described as "a kindergartener on his first day of art class," by Tunch Ilkin on 970AM Pittsburgh.
After several more three-and-outs at the start of the second half, Tyrone Carter intercepted Bruce Gradkowski at the Cleveland 12-yard line, leading to a Jeff Reed field goal to put the Steelers up 17-0.
The Pittsburgh defense forced the Browns' offense to punt again, leading to an 11 play, 88-yard drive by the Steelersresulting which culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by Gary Russel. Steelers led 24-0.
On Cleveland's very next drive, Gradkowski, trying to elude the pass rush, was picked off again by Tyrone Carter for a 32-yard touchdown return sealing the game at 31-0.
Dennis Dixon then took over for Byron Leftwich going three-and-out after two penalties. Dixon then lined up in the victory formation and took the game ending kneel down to end the regular season.
Hines Ward moved over 1,000 yards on the season for the fifth time in his career with his 70-yard game today. Ward hasn't done so since 2004.
Willie Parker moved to eigth in all-time rushing touchdowns for the team with 24, surpassing Rocky Bleir.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game immobilized. He has been diagnosed with a concussion and will be likely to play in the playoff game come January.