Steelers end regular season on high note

The Steelers clinched the AFC North Division championship by crowning the Browns, 41-9, in the regular-season finale. Mike Prisuta's feeling good about them heading into the post-season.

CLEVELAND -- As it turns out, the Browns weren't quite prepared to make a determined last stand for the sake of professionalism or love of the game or the Man-Genius or what have you after all.

Still, the observations gleaned at Cleveland Browns Stadium will be the final ones regarding the Steelers until a postseason run that thankfully won't commence until after a much-needed bye.

For what they're worth, those would include:

* The offense came up with the momentum-generating performance it needed before the postseason. For one afternoon, at least, the inconsistencies, the breakdowns and the penalties and the drops and the other self-inflicted wounds that have been plaguing this team seemingly all season gave way to a precise, hot-knife-through-butter exhibition that was as diverse as it was devastating.

The Steelers scored via the big play (a 56-yard bomb to Mike Wallace), the long march (10- and 11-play drives that ended with 1-yard "Bronko Package" blasts by Rashard Mendenhall) and in two-minute mode with five-wide receiver empty sets (a seven-play, 53-yard drive for a field goal in 1:03 late in the first half).

The result was 31 first-half points against a Browns defense that had been the last in the NFL not to surrender 30 in a game this season.

The Antwaan Randle El touchdown pass in the third quarter was just showing off, although it'll nonetheless show up on tape this postseason.

* Individually, it was encouraging and then some to see Ben Roethlisberger once again using his legs as well as his arm, Antonio Brown show up on hot reads and as a guy who can quickly extricate himself from a crowd after catching a short pass, and Heath Miller running through a safety (Abram Elam) following a reception.

* The defense did what it was supposed to against Colt McCoy, an above-the-line rookie in terms of pocket presence and poise but one who isn't above throwing the other team the ball.

Most encouraging on that side was the attack mode the Steelers unleashed early on against Cleveland's version of the empty set. Lawrence Timmons and William Gay broke in cleanly while applying pressure against that alignment on Cleveland's second possession.

You can't sit back and allow yourself to be carved up by that stuff whether you're playing McCoy or Tom Brady.

* One of the few negatives on the day was Timmons hitting McCoy but failing to finish late in the first quarter. It allowed McCoy to escape and throw a 15-yard completion. Timmons is too good a player to have just three sacks. He had just three this season because he too often came in too fast and either over-ran the pocket, got chipped off course by a block he should have been able to beat, or simply wasn't able to get the guy on the ground upon arrival.

That needs to change next season.

* The special teams distinguished themselves thusly: The Steelers kicked off eight times and Josh Cribbs was only able to get his hands on three of them for a total of 23 yards. Squib 'till the cows come home if you must, just don't let a kick returner beat you.

Not with that defense.

* The play that might prove the most significant in January and -- dare I suggest it? -- February was the 4-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Miller. On second-and-goal from the Cleveland 4-yard line, Roethlisberger lined up under center, dropped five quick steps, set his feet and let it fly. There was no need to overthink it and hold the ball forever while doing so; just get rid of it. Miller did the rest on the other end.

Sounds like a plan in the red zone, doesn't it?


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