Brown, Bell set records in Steelers’ victory
PITTSBURGH – It was another 8-8 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a couple of players managed to make history in Sunday’s season finale.
The 20-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field included notable accomplishments for receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Brown became the first player in NFL history to have at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in all 16 games.
Bell set a Steelers rookie record by collecting 1,259 combined yards. The previous record was 1,235 yards in 1972. It is worth noting that Franco Harris’ total came when the NFL played 14 regular season games rather the present 16, which went into effect in 1978.
It was another milestone for Brown, who was voted the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player by his teammates for a second consecutive year.
“He’s a hard worker,” 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 all the makings of a guy on the upswing of his career, and it’s good to see production go along with those types of efforts.”
Brown’s 16 games with a minimum of five catches and 50 yards is three games short of the NFL record, held by Laveranues Coles, who had 19 straight games in 2002-03 for the New York Jets and Washington Redskins.
“It’s a blessing,” Brown said. “It’s something I can’t take for granted. It’s something I appreciate tremendously. The repertoire I’ve built with Ben over time, the growth in me as a receiver, being a great teammate, playing along with the other receivers…it’s something special, and something that I hold dearly. And it’s something I want to build on for 2014.”
Harris ran for 1,055 yards on 188 attempts and caught 21 passes for 180 yards. He had seven 100-yard games, including seven of eight from week five through week 12. His season best was 138 yards against Buffalo on Oct. 29.
He also had five games where he ran for 35 yards or fewer.
Harris had either one reception or none in eight of the 14 games. His busiest day catching the ball saw him grab four passes against Cleveland on Dec. 3.
Bell started slowly this season, missing the first three games because of a foot injury sustained in the preseason.
In Sunday’s game he ran for 90 yards on 20 carries and caught one pass for one yard.
Bell was humble when he was voted the team’s top rookie earlier in the week, and he had a similar reaction to the news that he had displaced Harris in the Steelers’ record book.
“It’s an honor to even be in the same category,” Bell said. “Franco Harris is one of the greatest runners to ever come through here, and being mentioned with him is a great accomplishment.
“Obviously I can’t do it all myself. It’s a credit to the whole offense and the offensive line.”
Bell was the Steelers’ second-round pick after he elected to skip a senior season at Michigan State. The Steelers chose him over Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, who had a significant rookie season with Green Bay.
Because of the foot injury, Bell missed time that would have helped him get acclimated to the NFL. He said it probably took him “about three or four games” to finally shake the injury that occurred in August.
“I think it was the Patriots game (game eight, Nov. 3) where I started not even thinking about my foot,” Bell said. “That was the game where I felt close to normal. I felt good in that game.”
The Steelers had two injuries to report.
Nose tackle Steve McLendon re-injured his left ankle while making a tackle in the second half.
He left the field on a cart and did not return to the game.
Receiver Jerricho Cotchery injured his right shoulder while diving for a ball in the end zone in the second half. He did not return.
Although his injury was announced as a shoulder issue, Tomlin referred to it as a rib injury in his post-game comments.
Linebacker Jason Worilds didn’t suit up because of an abdominal injury.
Coming up short
The Browns were 0-for-3 on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Steelers at the Pittsburgh 29, 33 and 19 yard lines.
They failed to convert when they were four, three and six yards short of a first down.
“I’ll speak to the one in the fourth quarter,” Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski said. “The score was 17-0 at the time. We needed to score and get some touchdowns at that point. We had a limited amount of possessions down there, and with the opportunity we had in that part of the field, I felt like we needed to get a touchdown at that point.”
Today is often referred to as “Black Monday” in the NFL because it’s traditionally the day that several head coaches are fired.
There is speculation the Browns may make a change after losing their last seven games to finish 4-12. Chudzinski was a rookie head coach this season.
The fourth question of his postgame session asked whether he expected to be back next season.
“As far as I know,” he said.
Chudzinski grew up in Toledo as a Browns fan and was given a four-year contract.
“It sort of comes with the territory,” Chudzinski said of the speculation about his future. “We haven’t had any discussions other than we’re going to talk next week on where we’re at, and make the assessments and the evaluations and move on.”
Asked if he would be surprised if a change was made, Chudzinski said, “I’m not even getting into any of that.”
Speaking of dismissing questions, Tomlin had little patience with one about whether the Steelers’ 6-2 finish represented one of his better efforts.’
“I’m not into evaluating my performance,” he said. “I’m into winning games with this group, and were able to do enough over the second half to be in position to be where we are. And for that I’m thankful.”
Farewell for now?
Because the Steelers’ fate was unsettled when the game ended, players weren’t sure if some of them were experiencing their last game with the team.
Defensive end Brett Keisel, who is unlikely to return next season, said he made a point to soak in the view.
At 35, Keisel just completed his 12th NFL season.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Keisel said. “I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t take a minute. But it’s a great feeling to come off the game with a big win. And it’s a great feeling to see our defense play the way it did. I’m a happy camper.”
The players know that change is inevitable after every season.
“The relationships you build with guys is something special,” Brown said. “You learn about their will, their hunger and obviously their passion for the game. This team could be different next year. You have to appreciate the guys who are there with you and are excited for now, and excited for the 2014 Steelers.”