PITTSBURGH - After doing their part to stay alive, the Pittsburgh Steelers were still awaiting their playoff fate late Sunday afternoon.
However, none of the players stuck around the locker room following their 20-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale at Heinz Field. The Steelers went their separate ways, knowing they would eventually find out if their 8-8 record would be good enough to get to the postseason.
The Steelers needed the San Diego Chargers to lose at home to the Kansas City Chiefs in order to make the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens lost 34-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins dropped a 20-7 decision to the New York Jets, defeats that dropped them off the playoff dance card and kept the Steelers and Chargers alive for the sixth seed.
"I'm sure I'll get a text or a phone call letting me know," Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said. "My family likes to call a lot. I'm sure they'll call."
The Steelers won their third straight game and also beat the Browns for the 10th consecutive time in Pittsburgh in their attempt to become just the second team in the NFL history - the 1992 San Diego Chargers were the other - to make the playoffs of the 185 who started a season with four straight losses.
"It's pretty amazing to think we even have a chance to go to the playoffs after the way the season started," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "The coaches never gave up on us and we started playing better team ball. Regardless of whether make the playoffs, we won six of our last eight games and that's something to feel good about."
The Browns lost their final seven games to finish 4-12, marking the sixth straight season they had a record of either 5-11 or 4-12. Cleveland also missed the playoffs for the 11th year in a row, the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind the Buffalo Bills' 14.
Rumors swirled during the game that Browns first-year coach Rob Chudzinski could be in danger of losing his job Monday. Cleveland got off to a 3-2 start before losing 10 of their last 11 games and finishing with one less victory than last season when Pat Shurmur was fired after two seasons as coach.
"I haven't heard anything from anyone other than we're going to sit down, evaluate the season and see what we can do to get better for next season," Chudzinski said. "It was a difficult day to end a difficult season but I really believe you're better for every experience you go through and we'll better next season because of what we went through this season."
The Browns issued a statement in the middle of the fourth quarter that read "our focus is on the game today. We will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week."
Steelers rookie running Le'Veon Bell rushed for 90 yards on 20 carries and wide receiver Antonio Brown had nine receptions for 87 yards.
Brown finished the season with 110 catches, two short of the Steelers' record of 112 by Hines Ward in 2002, and a team-record 1,499 receiving yards.
"He's a hard worker," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's our team MVP. He's highly productive. He wants to be one of the key reasons why we're successful. He's just got all the makings of a guy on the upswing of his career and it's good to see production to go along with those types of efforts."
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 217 yards, completing 21 of 37 passes for one touchdown with two interceptions. Roethlisberger, who improved to 17-1 in his career against the Browns, had been picked off just twice in the previous six games combined.
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was feeling the effects of a stomach flu, was held to 82 yards on seven receptions after torching the Steelers for 237 yards on Nov. 24 at Cleveland. Quarterback Jason Campbell was 23-of-41 passing for 240 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
The Steelers ground out two touchdown drives, covering nine and 14 plays, to take a 14-0 halftime lead.
They scored on their first possession with a 9-yard pass from Roethlisberger to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Bell had a 5-yard scoring run with 4:22 left in the second quarter.
A pair of field goals by Shaun Suisham - a 30-yarder in the third quarter and a 32-yarder in the fourth period - pushed the Steelers' lead to 20-0.
The Browns avoided being shut out when running back Fozzy Whittaker caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Campbell with 2:46 remaining but it wasn't enough to extinguish the Steelers' playoff hopes at that point.
"I'm proud of the group, their ability to stay singularly focused, to fight the fight that's in front of them and to put some of our transgressions behind us, largely speaking," Tomlin said.
NOTES: Browns CB Joe Haden (hip) was inactive along with OL Shawn Lauvao (thigh), DL John Hughes (knee, elbow), OL Jason Pinkston (concussion), DL John Hughes (knee, elbow), TE Andre Smith (calf) and DL Phil Taylor (concussion). ... Cleveland CB Buster Skrine (shoulder) was injured in the second quarter and did not return, leaving the Browns without their starting corners. ... Steelers WR Antonio Brown became the first player in NFL history to have at least five receptions and 50 yards in all 16 games of a regular season. The record for most consecutive games is 19, set by Laveranues Coles from 2002-03. ... RB Le'Veon Bell set the Steelers' rookie record for most yards from scrimmage with 1,261 -- 862 rushing, 399 receiving -- breaking the mark of 1,235 set by Franco Harris in 1972 .... Steelers NT Steve McLendon (left ankle) was injured in the second quarter and did not return. ... Among Pittsburgh's inactives were LB Jason Worilds (abdomen) and LB Terence Garvin (knee).