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Steelers earn playoff berth with 28-12 win over Browns

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Ben Roethlisberger overcame a pair of interceptions to throw for 349 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers earned a playoff spot with a 28-12 win over the Browns.

Thanks to a vengeful Rex Ryan, along with a few fourth quarter interceptions by Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) are headed for the postseason after all.

And the bi-annual victory over the lowly Cleveland Browns didn’t hurt, either.

A 28-12 win at Paul Brown Stadium for the Steelers, coupled with Buffalo’s gutty 22-17 win at home against the New York Jets, secured the six-seed for Pittsburgh and eliminated New York from the playoff picture. Current Bills coach Rex Ryan was fired by the Jets at the end of last season.

At the start of the game, horrifying resemblances of last week’s debacle against the Baltimore Ravens began to manifest – a promising opening drive, fueled by timing patterns from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, was decapitated by a fumble by the superstar wide-out inside Steelers’ territory.

Of course, these are the Cleveland Browns.

Quarterback Austin Davis served up a floater right over his intended target and into the breadbasket of safety Mike Mitchell on the ensuing third down. However, Mitchell was likely envisioning a punishing hit rather than securing the interception as the ball bounced off his chest.

After the Steelers took over on downs, Roethlisberger connected with Brown three times, eventually leading to a Heath Miller touchdown catch to give them the early 7-0 lead.

Another déjà vu moment occurred early in the second quarter when running back DeAngelo Williams took an inside handoff for six yards, but suffered a high-ankle sprain when a Cleveland defender landed on Williams’ right foot. He eventually returned to the sideline but never returned to the game, unable to put much weight on the injured ankle.

Steelers fans should remember the last time their team’s starting running back injured his leg during Week 17 (See Bell, Le’Veon, against the Bengals almost exactly one year ago). Back-up running back Fitzgerald Toussaint assumed the duties in the backfield for the remainder of the game, accumulating 24 yards on 12 carries.

Taking a 14-9 lead into halftime, the Steelers clamped down defensively in the second half, using four timely turnovers to prevent Cleveland from climbing back into the contest. This included a Super Bowl XLIII flashback interception by James Harrison on the goal line, albeit this one only was returned six yards.

Roethlisberger—who missed much of the week with a case of the flu—did not look very sharp at times during the game, throwing two interceptions on passes he would not expect to miss. He ended the day going 24-of-36 for 349 yards, three touchdowns and those two interceptions.

The second pick he threw came on a designed pattern for Brown, but the defense caught on to the Steelers’ heavy reliance on their team MVP.

Brown still left his mark, though. If a first-half performance of 10 receptions, 150 yards and one touchdown weren’t enough, he finished with 13 catches for 187 yards and that first-half touchdown – this came despite double and triple coverages in the second half causing Roethlisberger to mostly look to other receivers.

Brown also made history, becoming the first receiver in NFL history to finish with at least 125 catches in back-to-back seasons.

The sixth-seeded Steelers will travel to Cincinnati next week, where they will play the third-seeded Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card round.

The Denver Broncos earned the AFC's top seed while the New England Patriots will be the AFC's second seed. The NFL's hottest team, the Kansas City Chiefs (5) will travel to face the Houston Texans (4) in the other Wild Card game next week.

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