Browns 24 ? Steelers 28
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 9 receptions for 143 yards – 1 Touchdown
Martavis Bryant: 6 receptions for 65 yards
Fitzgerald Toussaint: 2 reception for 9 yards
Jesse James: 2 receptions for 9 yards
Vance McDonald: 1 reception for 5 yards
Roosevelt Nix: 1 reception for 5 yards
Darrius Heyward-Bey ? 1 reception for 4 yards
Xavier Grimble: 1 reception for 2 yards
Eli Rogers: 1 reception for 1 yard
Stevan Ridley: 17 rushes for 81 yards, Avg: 4.7 yards – 1 Touchdown
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 1 rush for 29 yards, Avg: 29.0 yards – 1 Touchdown
Fitzgerald Toussaint: 5 rushes for 22 yards, Avg: 4.4 yards
Chris Boswell ? FGM: 0 for 0, PCT: 0%, XPM ? 4 , 4 PTS.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took the field on a snowy afternoon at Heinz Field for their regular season finale, against a Cleveland Browns team that was looking for their first win of the 2017 season. With starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and other notable starters inactive, the Landry Jones-led Steelers ended the regular season with a 28-24 victory, giving them a 13-3 record and the Number 2 seed in the AFC. This victory also secured the Browns’ first winless season in franchise history.
The Steelers offense did not wait for an invitation, as veteran receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey took an end-round play 29-yards into the end zone, giving this Steelers the early 7-0 lead.
In the second quarter, the Steelers offense struck again as rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s 20-yard touchdown capped off an 8-play, 72-yard drive giving them a quick 14-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer‘s 54-yard completion to receiver Josh Gordon put the Browns within scoring distance, which was completed by Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr.’s 2-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to just 7. On the following drive, the Steelers offense struck back as Jones led an 8-play, 75 yard drive, finished off by Steelers running back Stevan Ridley‘s 4-yard touchdown. The Browns offense was quick to respond on the following drive, as Kizer found receiver Rashard Higgins down the middle for the 56-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to just 7 before the end of the half.
In the third quarter, the Browns offense struck early as runs by Browns running back Isaiah Crowell and a 34-yard completion rookie tight end David Njoku, culminated with Higgins’ second touchdown of the game, tying the contest at 21 apiece. On the ensuing kickoff, rookie sensation Smith-Schuster received the ball from his own 4-yard line. Ninety-six yards later, he found himself in the Browns endzone, helping his Steelers break the tie and re-gain the lead. On the ensuing drive, the Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez‘s 51-yard field goal cut the Steelers lead to just 4 points.
In the fourth quarter, the Browns offense dominated time of possession and put together impressive drives, but the Steelers defense came up with big plays courtesy of a forced fumble by veteran cornerback William Gay and an interception later in the quarter by safety Sean Davis. On the Browns last play of their drive late in the contest, a dropped pass by receiver Corey Coleman all but sealed the Browns first winless season in franchise history.
The story for the Steelers on this day was the dazzling rookie (both on and off the field) Juju Smith-Schuster, who put together a performance worthy of consideration for Rookie of Year. He not only accounted for 143 receiving yards and a touchdown, but he also became the first Steelers player to score off a kickoff return since 2010. He was productive whenever he was on the field and was arguably the best player on the field next to Josh Gordon. In all, Smith-Schuster ended the season with 917 receiving yards, and surpassed the franchise rookie record set in 1958 by Jimmy Orr. Backup running back Stevan Ridley had a strong day running the ball, accounting for 81 rushing yards on 17 carries. Backup quarterback Landry Jones, who made his first start of the season, completed 23 passes on 27 attempts, which included a touchdown pass. Lastly, receiver Martavis Bryant, who has made it a habit of making important catches on 3rd down, accounted for 65 receiving yards.
With 56 sacks this season, the Steelers defense set a new franchise mark, which was established in 1994 and 2001. Leading the way was defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, who accounted for 8 total tackles and 2 sacks. Rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt accounted for 8 total tackles and a sack; Watt ended the season with the second most sacks by a rookie in franchise history. Sean Davis had a productive day with 3 total tackles, a sack and an interception, while linebacker Vince Williams ended the day with 4 total tackles and a sack. Lastly, linebacker Sean Spence ended the day with 6 total tackles.
The end of this game not only marked the end of the 2017 regular season, but the beginning of the roller coaster ride that will be the 2017 NFL playoffs. This is the time of year where records and points make no guarantees for success, as each team that earned their way in the postseason have as much chance to play in the Super Bowl as the other. Perhaps the aspect of the playoffs that players and their respective fanbase fear the most is the unexpected.
The first team that comes to mind are the 2010 Seattle Seahawks. Let’s think about it. That team finished the season 7-9 and was rated one of the worst teams in NFL history to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, their first opponent where the then-defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, who finished the regular season with an impressive 11-5 record. I am more than certain for those that viewed that game, no one would have expected a then-emerging talent Marshawn Lynch to put together one of the most impressive individual efforts in playoff history. More importantly, no one would have expected this Seahawks team, whom many believed were not worthy of the postseason, would shock the NFL world and pull off a David and Goliath-like victory.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off one of the most eventful, emotional and controversy-filled seasons in recent memory, nothing is guaranteed. With the uncertainty of the future of their starting quarterback, the training camp holdout of their talented All-Pro running back, watching the heart and soul of their defense sustain a likely career-ending injury, the dramatics involving two of their most talented receivers, and the conflict-ridden departure of their most veteran player, this Steelers team has somehow been able to persevere, and rise above it all and achieve things that perhaps much of the fanbase did not think could happen.
With all these obstacles taken into account, this Steelers team has the ability to overcome anything and everything that is likely to come their way during the playoffs. We can sit here and analyze what this team is lacking on both sides of the ball ad nauseam, but even that may not help us predetermine what fate lies ahead for this team. The one thing I know is that this time of year is a mental process. The team that is mentally stronger is generally the team better equipped to make a deep playoff run. I have no doubt the Steelers are one of the most talented teams heading into the playoffs. The pending question — is this team prepared mentally to endure and persevere through the obstacles that lies ahead? We will all soon find out.
Steelers Play of the Game
Rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster shows everyone that he’s not just a talented receiver, as returns this kickoff for 96-yards into the end zone.