PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers finished their regular season Sunday with a 31-0 whipping of the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field but lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a concussion at the end of the first half.
"At this point, all tests are negative, which is a positive," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "We are optimistic that he will be capable of playing. The bye is going to be helpful in regards to that."
With that bye already locked up, the Steelers (12-4) had only pride to play for against the Browns (4-12).
But Tomlin and company also wanted to go into the playoffs on a high note.
After a slow start, they were on their way toward doing that when Roethlisberger went down on a hit from linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Willie McGinnest with 1:58 remaining in the half.
The Steelers had already taken a 7-0 lead on a 34-yard run by Willie Parker with 4:15 left in the second quarter and had forced a Cleveland punt moments later to regain possession of the ball at midfield.
Roethlisberger dropped back to pass from the Cleveland 37 and threw a four-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller over the middle. Just as he released the ball, he was hit low by Jackson and high by McGinnest, driving his head backward into the turf.
Team doctors worked on him for 15 minutes on the field before taking him off on a backboard.
Roethlisberger did give the fans a thumbs up sign that he was OK and the Steelers were more than OK the rest of the game.
Byron Leftwich relieved Roethlisberger and scored on an 8-yard scramble at the end of the half. Safety Tyrone Carter picked off a pair of passes from Bruce Gradkowski, returning one for a fourth quarter touchdown. And Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense recorded its first shutout of the season, limiting the Browns to 106 total yards and eight first downs.
Gradkowski, the Browns' fourth starting quarterback this season, completed just five of 16 passes for 18 yards. The Seton La Salle High School graduate was also sacked three times and had a passer rating of 1.0.
The Steelers' running game, which has struggled in recent weeks, gained 176 yards, including 116 by Parker on 23 carries.
Gary Russell added a three-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as the Steelers handed Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel a loss in what was likely his final game with the Browns. Cleveland did fire general manager Phil Savage after the game.
The Steelers, meanwhile, head into the playoffs on a high note, having won six of their last seven games.
The only question for the team at this point is whether or not Roethlisberger will be on the field when the Steelers open the playoffs in two weeks.