PITTSBURGH (AP)—For a team that supposedly couldn’t lose, the Steelers nearly sustained the worst possible setback going into the playoffs. The Browns ended a miserable season with an embarrassing loss that may lead to another on Monday, that of Romeo Crennel’s job.
Ben Roethlisberger gave playoff-bound Pittsburgh a major scare by sustaining a concussion during a 31-0 rout over the Browns on Sunday, a game notable only in that it likely was Crennel’s last as Cleveland’s coach.
Roethlisberger, expected to play a half to stay sharp before a two-week break, lay on the turf for nearly 15 minutes after being leveled by Willie McGinest and D’Qwell Jackson while delivering a pass late in the second quarter. Hospital tests revealed no other injuries, and the quarterback probably will be ready when the No. 2-seeded Steelers (12-4) play an AFC division game Jan. 10 or 11.
“We are optimistic of where he’s going to be,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Again, it is encouraging.”
Roethlisberger’s injury highlights the risk NFL coaches take by playing regulars once a team’s playoff positioning has been determined. Tomlin didn’t want his key players sitting for three weeks, and most lobbied to play.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu was determined to play until the end, sneaking onto the field after Tomlin thought he had pulled him.
“We rested last year and it didn’t get us anywhere,” Hines Ward said, recalling how most starters were held out against Baltimore the week before a playoff loss to Jacksonville. “It’s our last dress rehearsal for two weeks. Sit all the guys out, now you’ve put us at three weeks (resting), and you get some rust.”
Rusty doesn’t begin to describe a Cleveland offense that ended the season by failing to score a touchdown for six games and 24 quarters, an NFL record.
Starting their fourth quarterback—one for every victory—the Browns (4-12) threw for only 26 yards, tying for the second-fewest in club history. The only offense came from Jamal Lewis, who ran for 94 of their 126 yards while becoming the first Browns running back since Mike Pruitt in 1980-81 to gain 1,000 yards in successive seasons.
The Browns, 13-0 losers to Cincinnati last week, were shut out in successive games for the first time in franchise history
“It was a rough season, that pretty much sums it up, it was a rough season,” linebacker Kamerion Wimbley said.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way in a season that began with so much hope after the Browns went 10-6 in 2007, causing owner Randy Lerner to give Crennel a $12 million extension through 2011. Now, Lerner will meet with Crennel in Cleveland on Monday, almost certainly to fire him.
The Browns didn’t even wait until they got home to start making big changes.
Phil Savage is out as general manager of the Browns after four seasons. Savage, who joined the Browns in 2005, will no longer be with the team after the organization decided to go in another direction on Sunday, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because there were still details of the move to work out. Savage had four years left on a contract extension he signed in May.
“We’re going to leave here, go back and have a final meeting tomorrow, but we’ll go into the offseason seeing what we can do better and get more competitive,” said Crennel, evading questions about what he expects to happen Monday.
Crennel, the only full-time coach in Browns history to never beat Pittsburgh, could be retained in another position, though it is unclear if he would be comfortable in such an arrangement or if the new coach would want his predecessor on his staff. Crennel didn’t discuss his situation with the players after the game.
“I think it’s very sad he’s taking all the blame for this year. He didn’t miss not one tackle, he didn’t throw not one pick, he didn’t drop not one ball,” linebacker Andra Davis said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s taken all the blame.”
Cleveland, outgained 369-126, probably could have played a lot longer without scoring against a Pittsburgh defense that gave up the fewest yards and points in the NFL.
“We were so upset we had to practice on Christmas, we had to take it out on the Browns,” linebacker Larry Foote said.
After Phil Dawson missed a 53-yard field-goal try in the first quarter, the Browns gained no more than 18 yards on any possession. Bruce Gradkowski (5-of-16, 18 yards, two interceptions) didn’t complete a pass for nearly 27 minutes, except for Tyrone Carter’s 32-yard interception return touchdown.
For the Steelers, Willie Parker’s 116 yards rushing gave their sagging ground game a lift with the playoffs approaching. He had only one 100-yard game since running for 105 yards in Cleveland on Sept. 14.
Parker’s 34-yard touchdown run with 4:07 left in the second quarter broke a scoreless tie and was Pittsburgh’s longest run this season. After Roethlisberger (9-of-14, 110 yards, one interception) was lifted, backup Byron Leftwich scored on an 8-yard run to make it 14-0 with 40 seconds left in the half.
Gradkowski’s passer rating was 1.0. … Ward’s six catches for 70 yards gave him his fifth career 1,000-yard season, his first since 2004, and a team-record 800 career receptions. … Lewis finished with 1,002 yards. … The 1974 Bears went 22 quarters without an offensive touchdown. … The Steelers won their 11th in a row against the Browns. … Crennel is 0-8 against Pittsburgh and 24-40 overall. … The Steelers have won six of seven. … Cleveland had only 102 yards passing in its final two games.