CLEVELAND — As usual, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers found a way.
They’re still chasing another Super Bowl title.
Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes, Pittsburgh’s defense dominated and the Steelers slipped into the AFC playoffs with a 28-12 win over the Cleveland Browns, who are expected to fire coach Mike Pettine.
The Steelers (10-6) had to win and needed Buffalo to knock off the Jets to make the postseason. Pittsburgh did its part despite a sloppy performance, and then earned a wild-card berth when the Bills shocked the Jets 22-17 in Orchard Park, New York.
Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards, 187 to the sensational Antonio Brown, who had 13 catches and a TD.
The Browns (3-13) ended another losing season in disarray and doubt. Owner Jimmy Haslam, who vowed in August that he wouldn’t “blow things up” will likely clean house, ousting Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer. Pettine went just 10-22 in two seasons, losing 18 of his final 21 games.
The Steelers sacked the Browns’ Austin Davis, starting in place of Johnny Manziel, seven times.
With Cleveland down just 17-12, linebacker Lawrence Timmons dropped Davis, who fumbled inside the 10-yard line and linebacker Arthur Moats recovered. On the next play, Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard TD pass to Markus Wheaton and the Steelers converted the 2-point play to go up by 13.
All that was left was for the Bills to help out.
And when Buffalo completed its win over the Jets, the Steelers were back in the postseason. They hugged and high-fived on the sideline and thousands of Pittsburgh fans waved their Terrible Towels with delight as the black-and-gold earned the right to play for the NFL championship in the Super Bowl’s golden anniversary season.
Pittsburgh’s loss at Baltimore last week had damaged the Steelers’ playoff chances, but Roethlisberger made sure there wouldn’t be another costly misstep.
Big Ben finished 24 of 36 and improved to 19-2 over Cleveland. The Steelers lost running back DeAngelo Williams in the first half with an ankle injury.
Travis Coons kicked four field goals for the Browns, who appear headed for yet more change. Pettine has two years left on his contract, but Haslam and his wife, Dee, aren’t happy with the direction of their franchise. The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002.
And beyond their many on-field issues, Manziel, who was sidelined with a concussion, continued to be a distraction. The polarizing QB was reportedly spotted in Las Vegas instead of being with his teammates for the final time this season, not a good look for the 23-year-old or the Browns.
Despite two turnovers, a missed field goal and Williams’ injury, the Steelers led 14-6 at halftime.
As usual, it was the Roethlisberger-to-Brown connection that covered up Pittsburgh’s blemishes.
Roethlisberger threaded a 17-yard TD pass to Brown with 58 seconds left in the second quarter, a score that gave the Steelers some breathing room after a rocky first 30 minutes.
Brown, who became the first player in league history to catch at least 125 passes in consecutive seasons, beat Cleveland’s defense with a post pattern to haul in Roethlisberger’s dart. He celebrated by leaping into a group of black-and-gold covered Steelers fans, many of whom spent the first half looking at the scoreboard and wondering if Pittsburgh was going to show up.
The Steelers’ defense bailed out Roethlisberger with four sacks of Davis, who couldn’t take advantage of great field position and had to settle for three field goals.
Roethlisberger warmed up for the finale by playing catch in the hallway outside Pittsburgh’s locker room before the game. It was almost that easy for him against Cleveland’s injury-ravaged secondary.
He completed seven consecutive passes on the Steelers’ first scoring drive, which he capped with a 2-yard strike to tight end Heath Miller.