CLEVELAND - The Steelers didn't back into the playoffs, but they'll most likely be without their top back for the postseason.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall sustained a knee injury on Sunday during the Steelers' 13-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Steelers open the playoffs next weekend in Denver, and it looks like Mendenhall won't play.
"We had some injuries sustained in the game, many of which are minor,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Of course, the Rashard Mendenhall injury is not. Obviously, you should anticipate that he won't be participating next week for us.''
The Associated Press
Steelers running back Isaac Redman celebrates his touchdown run with Marcus Gilbert (77), Hines Ward (86) and Ramon Foster (73).
Mendenhall injured his right knee on the final play of the first quarter on a 5-yard run. He didn't return to the game, and his replacement, Isaac Redman, nearly gave away the game to the Browns.
In the end, though, the Steelers' victory meant little in their playoff seeding because the Baltimore Ravens beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-16. That gave the AFC North Division title to Baltimore and placed the Steelers as the No. 5 seed with a 12-4 record.
The Broncos are the No. 4 seed with an 8-8 mark because they won the AFC West Division title. But Mendenhall's status could play a key role in the Steelers' attempt at another Super Bowl run.
"Potentially, [it's an ACL tear],'' Tomlin said. "We need to take a look at it. It's not good, of course, when a guy goes down in open grass not touched by anyone. Experience tells me that generally that's not good.''
Redman ran for a lot of tough yards in the game, but he fumbled the ball twice in the fourth quarter and had the Browns in position to pull off the upset.
The Steelers knocked down a desperation pass by the Browns on the final play of the game to preserve the victory.
"[Redman] carried the ball quite a bit,'' Tomlin said. "Obviously we'd like him to hold on to the football better than he did there at the end of the game.''
Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu made the key play in the game by intercepting Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace in the third quarter with the game tied at 6-6. The Steelers scored on a Redman 7-yard run six plays later to give them their first lead of the game at 13-6.
The Browns came back with a Phil Dawson 49-yard field goal before the third quarter finished, but the Steelers hung on for the win.
"We won, which is the most important thing,'' Polamalu said. "But it's good to get one [win] before the playoffs. Like Coach said before, the teams that have the best shot at winning the Super Bowl probably lost their last game a few weeks ago, so we'll see how it turns out.''
The Steelers' offense struggled to produce points with Ben Roethlisberger returning from his ankle sprain. He completed 23-of-40 passes for 221 yards and was sacked twice. Redman ended up with 92 yards rushing, despite the two fumbles, and Antonio Brown caught six passes for 90 yards.
"Of course, [Roethlisberger] is not 100 percent,'' Tomlin said. "But there are many guys out there that are in uniform that aren't.''
After a first quarter in which neither team could produce much offense, the Steelers had a chance to score the game's first points, driving to the Browns' 14-yard line. But Roethlisberger was sacked by Jabaal Sheard on third down, and Shaun Suisham's 45-yard field-goal attempt was wide, wide left.
The Browns then mounted a 10-play, 57-yard drive behind bruising runs from Peyton Hillis and a 27-yard scramble by quarterback Seneca Wallace. Cleveland went up, 3-0, on Dawson's 26-yard field goal with 6 minutes left in the first half.
The Cleveland defense then held the Steelers to one first down and forced a punt. Wallace passes of 23 and 14 yards allowed Dawson to boot a 45-yard field goal with 1 minute to go in the half.
The Steelers were able to score before the half after Roethlisberger connected with Brown on 40-yard and 13-yard passes to the Cleveland 1-yard line. But the Steelers used their last timeout of the half with 11 seconds remaining and were eventually forced to settle for a 19-yard Suisham field goal to make it 6-3 at the half.
The Steelers tied the game at 6-6 on their first possession of the second half when they traveled 66 yards on 13 plays, culminating with a 29-yard Suisham field goal.
"A hard-fought win for us like the other 11 have been,'' Tomlin said. "It's good to finish the regular season on a positive note, finish at 12-4, particularly in a division town.''
The Browns finished with a 4-12 mark.
"Congratulations to the Steelers,'' Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "They did a good job. They beat us, and we'll find a way to flip the score the next time.''