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Week 17 Recap: In Through The Out Door

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Thank you, Rex.

A week after Bill Belichick all but waved the white flag, Rex Ryan brought his new team to play, in the process knocking his old team out of the playoffs. The Bills upsetting the Jets left the post-season door wide open. Literally minutes later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns 28-12 to backdoor into the NFL Playoffs. As with everything involving the Black and Gold, it wasn’t easy.

The hapless Browns hung around for the better part of three quarters before the Steelers finally pulled away. For the second straight week, Mike Tomlin‘s team came out flat against an inferior opponent. A litany of mistakes left them with a narrow 14-9 lead at halftime. Cleveland dominated the third quarter with an epic 10 minute drive that ultimately ended with only a field goal.

That sequence was basically the turning point of the game. Jeanette’s own Terrelle Pryor, seeing his first NFL action at wide receiver, took a stupid unsportsmanlike foul that took Cleveland from a 2nd down at the 5 and pushed them all the way back to the 20. Usually long drives tire out a defense but holding them to a FG seemed to energize Keith Butler‘s crew. On the flip side, Cleveland self-destructed from that point on.

After the offense did nothing, Lawrence Timmons obliterated QB Austin Davis to force a fumble deep in Browns territory. Ben Roethlisberger wasted no time, hitting Markus Wheaton for an 8 yard TD the very next play. On the ensuing kickoff, rookie LB Anthony Chickillo forced yet another fumble. This time the Steelers could only manage a field goal to go up by 16. Cleveland tried to make a final charge but William Gay snuffed that out with a game sealing interception.

Improbably, the defense once again bailed the Steelers out in a game where their vaunted offense barely bothered to show up. RB DeAngelo Williams left early when his ankle was twisted up on a tackle. He was carted off but was later seen testing it out on the sideline although he never did return. His availability for next week appears dicey although it doesn’t appear to be a season ending type injury.

His replacement, Fitzgerald Toussaint, provide very little ground attack, rushing 12 times for only 24 yards. What really hurt the Steelers, though, were the mistakes from the passing game. Big Ben seemed locked on Antonio Brown, which worked for 13 catches, 187 yards and 1 laser beam touchdown. It backfired, though, once Cleveland started throwing all their coverage on AB, leading directly to two costly picks. Ben has now thrown 3 TDs and 7 INTs in the past four road games.

The Steelers habit of letting bad teams hang around has become downright unsettling. While the Bills led the Jets from the get-go, Pittsburgh started their game with a fumble, the TD to Brown, a missed FG and an interception. For awhile there, it really looked like Buffalo was going to do us a solid only for it to go for naught. Only some opportunistic defense and timely offense averted disaster.

Let’s face it, though, we played the Browns. Following the game, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam threw a match on the dumpster fire, pink slipping both his head coach and GM. Supposed franchise QB Johnny Manziel spent last night at a Vegas casino. We can get away with these kind of efforts against bad teams but they won’t cut it in the playoffs.

Although as we’ve seen many times, anything can happen in the playoffs. You just have to get in. And for the second year in a row, Mike Tomlin has his squad in what he calls “the tournament.” Tomlin frequently frustrates me but you have to give him a lot of credit for making the playoffs in a season that easily could’ve been derailed by all the injuries. Just making the post-season, though, shouldn’t be good enough.

After all, we aren’t Cleveland.