Steelers avoid major injuries

PITTSBURGH — If you could overlook the icicles forming on your eyebrows, this was just like NFL preseason football.

The stars were on the sideline and the subs had the field.

That’s the way it worked for Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale between the Cleveland Browns and Steelers at Heinz Field.

The Steelers won 28-24, finished the season 13-3 and swept all six of their divisional games. They have this week off and will await their first playoff game at home the weekend of Jan. 14-15.

“There were a lot of quality efforts all the way around,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

The game meant next to nothing to both teams. The Steelers had to count on the long shot of the New York Jets winning at New England to bump the Patriots out of the top seed in the AFC playoff field.

The Browns were trying to avoid a winless season, like there’s any real difference between 0-16 and 1-15.

So Ben Roethlisberger did some pre-game socializing and in-game cheerleading while Landry Jones did the actual quarterbacking.

The Steelers took no chances in more ways than one. Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward were glued to the sideline to preserve their health for the playoffs.

Knowing there was little incentive for ticket holders to test their anti-freeze for a game like this, the Steelers offered a bribe in the form of a scratch-off ticket that guaranteed everyone a prize.

Is three hours in a deep freeze worth a premium coffee at McDonald’s? Hey, we all make our own judgments.

The game was competitive, and it should have been. The Steelers chose to delete a lot of talent from the active roster (Antonio Brown was already sidelined with an ankle injury) and the Browns? What did they have to lose, except their 16th game? Might as well let it fly.

For those who followed the advice of the TV weather people and dressed in layers (five seemed to be about right), there were some highlights.

JuJu Smith-Schuster added to the legend of his rookie season with a 96-yard kickoff return just 12 seconds after the Browns had taken the lead.

The Steelers opened the game with a 72-yard touchdown drive that ended with Darrius Heyward-Bey taking the ball 29 yards on an end around.

And as much as you may read or hear about the Browns, it was special to see them in their natural habitat, finding a way to mess up almost anything.

When the Steelers lined up for a chip shot field goal, the Browns jumped offside to give them four more cracks at the end zone. Cleveland committed a mindless roughing the passer penalty that set the Steelers up for a touchdown and reminded them why it was smart to hold Roethlisberger out of the game.

Given the Browns’ skill level, it was disturbing to see them gain more than 50 yards on two plays and add two more that went for more than 30 yards. Heyward and the previously-injured Ryan Shazier were the only standouts missing from the usual defense.

But for this day, the Steelers met their goals. They won the game, and there were no major injuries (Backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney’s thigh injury was the only one Tomlin mentioned post-game).

So on Jan. 1, it’s wait, prepare and see if the Steelers are still playing at the end of this month.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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