While the Pittsburgh Steelers had nothing to play for in terms of seeding in the AFC on Sunday, they wanted to put forth a statement against the Cleveland Browns. While they did that with a 31-0 romping against the Browns and their fourth starting quarterback this season – Bruce Gradkowski, the Steelers may have paid a heavy price with a major injury of their own.
The injury took place in the second quarter when franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger was driven to the field on a play by Browns LB Willie McGinest. The QB laid on the turf for several minutes before he was taken off on a stretcher. While he was able to give the crowd a thumbs up while leaving the field, the mood of the game changed from another Steelers romp over their one-time rival to concern about Big Ben and his availability to play in the playoffs in two weeks.
The official word on Roethlisberger was a concussion. If that is all it was, the team will have avoided a serious debate on if the Steelers should have even played him on Sunday. The team played all their starters the entire game, and it wasn’t until the team was able to put the game out of reach that the backups and third string players got a shot to play.
On the field, it was another futile effort for the Browns, who end the season having not scored an offensive touchdown in their final six games. Gradkowski was no match for the leagues #1 ranked defense, as he was just 5-for-15 for 18 yards with two interceptions. He was rushed all day long, and never had a shot to do much of anything vs a hungry Steelers defense that was beat up last week in a loss to the Titans.
On offense, the Steelers used a steady dose of the running game to pound the Browns all day. Willie Parker looked like the Pro Bowl back of old, rushing for 116 yards on 23 carries with a TD and an average of 5 yards per carry. Mewelde Moore piled on 23 yards on four carries, and Gary Russell scored on a three-yard run to make it 24-0. Overall the team had 179 yards on the ground.
Byron Leftwich, playing after Roethlisberger went down, was 7-for-12 for 80 yards. He also scrambled in for an 8-yard touchdown with :32 seconds left in the first half to make it 14-0. The game started out slow, as Phil Dawson missed a 53-yard field goal for the Browns, and Roethlisberger had the Steelers on Cleveland’s 20, but threw a rushed interception to Sean Jones to end a drive in a scoreless first quarter.
The Browns end the season at 4-12, and lost 7 of their final 8 games. The 12-4 Steelers will sit back and wait for the playoffs to play out next week, then hope that their franchise QB will be ready to go for the divisional playoffs in two weeks when they host an AFC team on January 10th or 11th.