Browns refuse to beat Steelers in bizarre regular season finale

The score: Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 24

The bottom line: The Steelers deactivated six starters and most of the ones on the field were playing at three-quarters speed, their quarterback was clueless and their defense soft and STILL the Cleveland Browns could not defeat them, turning the ball over (hilariously, we might add) twice in the red zone, missing a field goal and marching directly backward after being gifted a 1st-and-goal in overtime inside the Pittsburgh 5, setting for a field goal that left the door open for a final Steelers drive that culminated in a walkoff touchdown pass from 26 yards out from Landry Jones to Cobi Hamilton.

It was over when… In his free agency audition, Landry Jones was erratic and inaccurate on his long throws, showed very little pocket awareness and miscalculated on numerous audibles (aside from that, he was fine, though), but it all came together for him on the game’s final play as he took advantage of rare, clean pocket to loft a perfect rainbow to Cobi Hamilton, who beat Browns DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun cleanly and grabbed the 26-yard game winner to mercifully put an end to the afternoon’s festivities.

Play of the day: Maybe it’s that extra “e” his parents put in his first name or maybe it’s just the uniform he wears, but Boddy-Calhoun was the main attraction in the Browniest play the Browns ever Browned during the third quarter. Landry Jones either overthrew or underthrew his receiver (take your pick, there were two there) and was intercepted by Boddy-Calhoun who was cruising untouched to a 68-yard Pick Six that would have given Cleveland a 14-point lead. As Boddy-Calhoun stretched toward the goal line to cover the final two yards, a hustling Darius Heyward-Bey knocked the ball free and it squirted into the arms of (who else?) Jones, who started the whole mess, for a touchback. To make matter more hilarious, officials errantly rued the play a touchdown in live action as it took a few seconds to believe that even the Browns could turn that trick. Note: Description of this play in the official NFL transcript of the game required five lines, by far the longest entry we’ve ever seen in a game log.

Playoff picture:

+ The Patriots domination of Miami ensured New England the #1 seed in the AFC and sends the Dolphins to Heinz Field next week (more on that below).

+ No one’s playoff fortunes have soured more in the past eight days than the Raiders, who had an MVP-candidate quarterback and a legit shot at the top seed last Sunday morning, but now find themselves playing rookie Connor Cook under center and seeded fifth, heading to Houston and likely on the same side of the bracket as the Patriots if they can get by the similarly quarterback-challenged Texans.

+ The Raiders misfortune might seem to have spilled over onto the Steelers, who now would face a second-round game at Arrowhead Stadium if they can get by Miami instead of getting the hobbled Raiders. Not so fast. We’re not saying KC is a better draw for Pittsburgh, but we are saying the Steelers have never played well at Oakland, in particular, or in the western time zone, in general. To us, the biggest downside of the way things played out is it keeps the Chiefs way from the Patriots in the Division Round, which was a legitimate chance for New England to be upset.

+ Over on the NFC side, we’re not so sure it won’t be Atlanta in the Super Bowl after the Dak Prescott postseason injury and the critical Tony Romo interception that you know is coming.

Hot topics:

+ You have to give DeMarcus Ayers a helmet next week in place of Sammie Coates, right? Right? If you don’t, it made zero sense to let Ayers go full bore Sunday while Coates, who desperately needs reps if he’s going to play, stood and watched. We don’t want to overstate things, but Ayers looked like a guy who can make a difference, sooner rather than later.

+ Pittsburgh appeared to dodge an injury bullet then Javon Hargrave returned to play Sunday after leaving to be evaluated for a possible concussion. That means his neurological tests were baseline when checked. It’s still possible he could develop further symptoms overnight so let’s wait until Tomlin’s presser and/or Wednesday’s practice to breath that sigh of relief. Of course, Pittsburgh already is banged up on the defensive line with Stephon Tuitt still inactive after a knee sprain and Ricardo Matthews back on the sideline with a nagging ankle injury.

+ In what might be his final meaningful playing time with Pittsburgh, Jarvis Jones had perhaps his best career game with three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a deflected pass. We supposed it’s possible there’s so little serious interest in Jones elsewhere that he ends up back in Pittsburgh on a backup’s deal.

+ No unit looked more like it was going through the motions for the Steelers than the offensive line, which allowed Landry Jones to be sacked four times and provided very little running room for DeAngelo Williams until the final 20 minutes.

Zebra hunting:

+ John Hussey’s crew let a lot go in the game, especially offensive holding, and still wound up calling 14 penalties. The worst one, obviously, was the facemask on Mike Mitchell in overtime that clearly should have been offsetting. But the gaffe yielded the soundbite of the year as Mitchell screamed, howled and pleaded his case. We’re not going to pile on Mitchell because he acted basically the exact same way we do in our living room when a questionable call goes against the Steelers.

Game mismanagement:

+ The Browns might have won the game in regulation if they had not burned a timeout with 1:12 left when they had trouble getting a play in. Through some “only the Browns” magic, Cleveland moved inside the Pittsburgh 5 on the next play when Terrell Pryor beat Artie Burns on a double move only to see Isaiah Crowell fumble away the opportunity with 1:04 left. Had the Browns had all three timeouts left, they’d likely have been able to get the ball back for a game-winning field goal attempt, which they’d have screwed up somehow, so never mind.

In the booth:

+ Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon did the best they could, given the dismal level of play and bizarre circumstances, often matching the outlandish tone of the game. Here are some of the outlandish things they said:

+ Harlan: “RGIII is a very interesting player.”

+ Gannon: “This is a tremendous opportunity for Landry Jones.”

+ Harlan: “Ben Roethlisberger is playing very well right now.”

+ Gannon: “No one can cover Antonio Brown.”

+ Gannon tied things up nicely in overtime when he called Landy Jones “Jarvis Landry.”

Sweet tweets:

+ @PandaPSU: Mike Carey thinks Mariah Carey had a good New Year’s Eve.

+ @23Metz23: Landry Jones should join the circus.

+ @NeilCoolong: How many quarterbacks have thrown an interception and recovered a fumble on the same play? Probably just Landry, right?

Next week: The Steelers host the Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs. Of course, the Dolphins handled Pittsburgh earlier this year in Miami, 30-15, but the playoffs are a whole different ballgame and the Dolphins are almost a whole different team, likely featuring Matt Moore at quarterback and having lost seven defensive starters to injury since that first game. Of special early interest is the forecast for next weekend, which is ice cold for Pittsburgh, with highs in the mid 20s and lows in the mid 10s.


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