A surprisingly exciting game came from an ultimately meaningless matchup in Pittsburgh. With the 3rd seed in the playoffs already locked up, neither a win nor a loss would have any impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers, which makes Mike Tomlin’s decision to play his starting defense for the majority of the game a strange one.
For whatever reason, in defiance of all logic, starters Mike Mitchell, Lawrence Timmons, Ross Cockrell, and Ryan Shazier played nearly every snap on defense, with major contributions from the majority of the rest of the starting defensive lineup. Although its not too unusual for the first and second year players, it is strange how many snaps the veterans played. Thankfully, the Steelers came out of yesterday’s game with few injuries. However, with the number of starters participating, the 24 points put up by the Browns is concerning. Cleveland was able to shred Pittsburgh’s defense at times, particularly in the first half. Rookie Artie Burns was beaten particularly bad by Terrelle Pryor on a double move for a major gain.
On offense the Steelers struggled early, allthough with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Maurice Pouncey all inactive, this was not unexpected. Landry Jones was under pressure throughout the first half, with BJ Finney struggling at center against Danny Shelton. Jones was up and down at times, but was able to pull off an exciting final drive to win the game in the final seconds with an absolute dime to Cobi Hamilton in the end zone. As a result of his performance, Jones may have just earned an opportunity to test free agency as one of the better back up quarterbacks on the roster.
In the end, the Steelers came out with a win and that’s all that matters, right? Except it didn’t matter. At least not in the typical sense. This game ended as sort of a win-win for both teams. The Browns have secured the #1 selection in the 2017 NFL draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers will enter the playoffs as healthy as they can be. The Steelers will face the Miami Dolphins in a rematch at home, followed by (if they win) the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.