Party On Hold

The Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, 20-7, while two other facets of their four-part recipe for making the playoffs also hit. They're awaiting one more result.

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns 20-7 in a regular-season finale Sunday that really didn't begin to percolate until about the time the Browns scored their only touchdown.

That came with 2:46 left in a lost game, ruining a runaway shutout, but it was followed by an update out of Miami from the Heinz Field public-address announcer.

"The Jets have just kicked a field goal and lead the Dolphins 20-7 with less than three minutes to go!"

Raucous applause followed from the rain-drenched holiday revelers at Heinz Field. And that was followed by an update out of Cincinnati.

"The Bengals have just returned an interception for a touchdown and now lead the Ravens 34-17!"

More wild applause from the raucous revelers.

Both games ended that way as Heinz Field began to turn into a party. And after the Steelers finished off the Browns, the players went to the locker room to answer questions about how a team that started 2-6 could finish 6-2, and thus 8-8 overall.

Offense carried the brunt of the turnaround. The numbers reveal a stark contrast since the no-huddle took on full-time use.

But the win on this day was about the defense, the team's ugly step-child this season that blossomed into Cinderella down the stretch and into the finale.

"It felt great," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We really wanted the goose egg, you know what I mean? But to start like that and to make fourth-down stop after fourth-down stop, that was huge, especially short-yardage situations. Those are tough to stop. Great to be a part of it today."

Keisel had a sack, forced a fumble, and in general played as he has throughout his 12 years in Pittsburgh. But this one was emotional for him. At 35 and with an expiring contract, Keisel wonders whether this was his final appearance at Heinz Field, and he talked to the defensive line before the game about it.

But Keisel also wanted to make one thing clear: He's not calling it quits.

"Not at all," he said. "I'm not saying it's over for me at all. I still feel like I can play. We'll see."

Ryan Clark, another 12-year vet, echoed Keisel's statement.

"Oh, I'm going to play. It might not be here," said Clark, whose contract is also expiring.

"That's up to the Rooneys and Kevin Colbert, but I'm going to play. When you finish with 100 tackles it shows you can get around the ball. And they changed a lot about how I had to play this year, just because of some of the leakage we had earlier in the season. It kind of limited me to doing certain things, but it's what the team needed.

"I feel good. I am a 12-year guy, I understand that, but I'm also a 12-year guy who didn't miss a practice. I've been blessed to be healthy and as long as I'm healthy I would like to give it a shot."

Both Clark and Keisel pointed to the youth of the unit in the first half of the season as a big reason why the Steelers allowed 26 points per game, forced only 0.75 turnovers per game, and recorded only 1.6 sacks per game.

Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams showed the Browns yesterday how much the rookies have improved in the second half, when the Steelers allowed an average of 17.8 points, forced 1.75 turnovers and recorded 2.6 sacks per game in the second half.

"It improved a lot," Keisel said. "Coach (Dick) LeBeau's defense is not simple. There are a lot of intricacies in his defense and it takes time. If I was a rookie and came out and played, I'll tell right now there is no way I could've done it, which is why they just stuck me on kickoff and said 'Run straight and tackle the guy with the ball.'

"Those young guys stuck with it. Everyone worked with them. Everyone grabbed them and brought them under their arm and helped them. A big reason why we're successful on the back end is because of how those guys performed.

"You have to give these kids credit for not giving up on themselves, for continuing to come to work, for continuing to learn, checking their pride at the door, listening to us and not acting like they're too good to listen to us. That's a big reason why things got turned around."

And a big reason the Steelers went into the night wondering if they still had any season left.

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