PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers finished a frustrating season on a winning note, beating Pat Shurmur in what was likely his last game as the Cleveland Browns' coach.
Ben Roethlisberger shook off a late-season slump to throw three touchdowns passes to lead the Steelers to a 24-10 victory on Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Steelers finished 8-8 after being eliminated from playoff contention a week earlier with a loss to Cincinnati. Five of the Steelers' losses were by three points or less.
Roethlisberger threw interceptions that led to game-winning field goals by Dallas and the Bengals in the previous two games. The Steelers had been 0-3 since Roethlisberger returned to the lineup after missing three games with shoulder and rib injuries.
"This was big for us," Roethlisberger said. "We wanted to come out and finish the year with a win and have a good feeling going into the offseason. I'm proud of the way the guys finished."
Meanwhile, the Browns ended with a 5-11 record that will likely cost Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert their jobs. Shurmur has gone 11-21 in his two seasons.
Jimmy Haslam, who bought the Browns in October for $1.05 billion, is said to be looking to make a big splash with the next coaching hire and reportedly has his eye on the University of Alabama's Nick Saban, a native of northeast Ohio. Alabama will attempt to win its third national title in four years when it faces Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Miami.
The Browns have 27 players who are either rookies or in their second NFL seasons, and Shurmur feels things are looking up for a downtrodden franchise that has made the playoffs just once in 14 years since returning as an expansion team.
"The future is bright for that group of guys," Shurmur said. "I think the coaches that work with them are outstanding. That's what my thoughts are as this team gets ready for the offseason, just like the 19 other teams (that didn't make the playoffs)."
Shurmur also did not openly campaign to keep his job.
"I don't know," Shurmur said when asked if he had made a strong enough case to return in 2013. "We really did not win enough games and we're not competing next week. I was never really worried about (next year), and I have no regrets."
The Browns were forced to start third-string quarterback Thad Lewis as Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy were both inactive because of sprained right shoulders. Standout rookie running back Trent Richardson (ankle) also sat out, and he finished the season with 950 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns
Lewis completed 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards and one touchdown while being intercepted once and sacked three times. He left the game on the next-to-last play after being hit in the back while being sacked by Lawrence Timmons.
The Browns held a 320-212 advantage in total yardage but lost three fumbles, two of which led to Steelers touchdowns.
Roethlisberger was 15-of-23 passing for 134 yards, but two of his three TD passes came in the second half and snapped a 10-10 tie.
Roethlisberger threw a nine-yard scoring pass to Antonio Brown with 4:39 left in the third quarter to put the Steelers ahead 17-10, then iced the game with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger is already looking ahead to 2013 and said the Steelers' strength and conditioning coach Garrett Giemont has formulated an offseason workout regimen.
"I'm going to go get some rest, then get dedicated to coming back better than ever," said Roethlisberger, who added that he had no regrets about returning to play the last four games after being injured.
Cleveland had tied the score at 10-10 early in the third quarter when Greg Little caught a seven-yard touchdown pass from Lewis.
The only touchdown of a lackluster first half came when Roethlisberger found Leonard Pope for a one-yard score with 47 second left in the second quarter. That put the Steelers in front 10-3.
Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead on Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and Cleveland's Phil Dawson answered with a 51-yard field goal four minutes later.
"It was good to finish on a positive note here in 2012, particularly the way we knuckled in the second half as a team" Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We had five healthy offensive linemen and two corners. Those guys knuckled up and delivered."
NOTES: Pittsburgh lost four players to injury: defensive end Brett Keisel (knee), guard David DeCastro (neck), cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee) and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum (concussion). ... Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon (ankle) and guard John Greco (knee) were forced from the game. ... The Steelers have won 17 of their last 19 meetings with the Browns, including nine in a row in Pittsburgh. ... Linebacker James Harrison had 11 tackles, including six solos, and one sack, in what was likely his last game with the Steelers as he is expected to be a salary cap casualty ... Timmons had two sacks and cornerback Cortez Allen forced two fumbles for Pittsburgh. ... Browns defensive end Jabaal Sheard had two sacks. ... The Steelers will not participate in the playoffs for just the fourth time since 2001 and the second time in Tomlin's six seasons as coach ... The Browns have lost at least 10 games in 11 of 14 seasons since returning to the NFL as an expansion franchise.