They said it was a meaningless game…perhaps. However, it was to be an opportunity for a team that was coming off of a stinging loss from the week before to gain confidence going into the playoffs So on a bright Sunday afternoon, the Steelers faced the Cleveland Browns for their last game of the regular season.
For as suspect as the Steelers offense had been called, perhaps it was good for them to play, especially starting the first quarter where the offense couldn’t seem to get anything going. Somehow, we second guessed ourselves though, when the stadium went quiet and those of us at home watched with baited breath as the Steelers franchise quarterback lay on the field after a hit by two Browns defenders and a sigh of relief and a cheer going through the stadium as Ben Roethlisberger raised his thumb up as they were carting him off the field. But let me digress a bit.
It was not a very good start for the Steelers offense. An interception on Roethlisberger, then later, a beautiful touchdown pass from Ben to Nate Washington, negated on holding penalty. Troy Polamalu would be denied a forced fumble by the referees and a defensive touchdown, would be called an incomplete pass. But somehow, Willie Parker found enough rhythm and ran one in for his 24th career touchdown. Hines Ward would not only have his 5th career season 1000 yard game, but would go on to complete a career 800+ possessions. As Ben was getting into the groove, he would find himself out of the game, taken away to a local hospital by ambulance. Byron Leftwich would come in and continue to take this offense down the field on the Browns, to include having a rushing touchdown on his own.
Defensively, James Harrisons presence was missed. One would have to wonder if Browns running back, Jamal Lewis, would have met his 1000 yd season had the Steelers MVP been in. However, defense held well today and shut out the Browns offense. Romeo Crennell had hoped the wildcat offense could help the Browns fourth quarterback, however, the Steelers defense adjusted well and it would not be a good day for the kid from the Burgh in his first NFL start. Defensive stud for the game was not a name well known throughout the season. Tyrone Carter would replace safety Ryan Clark, who had dislocated his shoulder during the Steelers/Titans game. Carter would come up with two picks, one which he ran back for a touchdown.
Meaningless game, yes, probably. Given the injury to Roethlisberger, in hindsight, was it a good idea. I’m sure Ben would tell you it was a good idea and besides, as many analysts and players will tell you, an injury could occur on the first play or the fiftieth. However, if coming off with not only a shutout, but also a sweep of the division (something that hasn’t been done since 2002), along with confidence going into the playoffs is meaningless, well then you have to be the judge on that one.