CLEVELAND (AP) – A short bus ride into Ohio put Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers back in the fast lane.
The playoffs remain a possible destination.
Le’Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard touchdown run – long after time expired in the first half – and Pittsburgh’s defense recorded eight sacks as the Steelers snapped a four-game losing streak, 24-9 Sunday over the winless Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers (5-5) scored eight points with zeroes showing on the clock before halftime after they were awarded two extra plays because of defensive penalties against the Browns (0-11), who also lost rookie quarterback Cody Kessler with a concussion.
Pittsburgh’s win, coupled with Baltimore’s loss to Dallas, pushed the Steelers back into a tie for first place in the AFC North with the Ravens (5-5).
Roethlisberger tried to downplay the victory, but there was no denying its importance.
“We just won a game, honestly, that’s the approach we have to have,” Big Ben said. “It really doesn’t mean anything. It means we won a football game.”
The Steelers did it by playing Steelers football – running the ball, stopping the run and physically punishing the Browns.
After they knocked Kessler from the game, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave recovered a fumble by Browns backup QB Josh McCown for a TD with 3:36 left to seal Pittsburgh’s win. The Steelers came in with a league-low 13 sacks before unloading on the Browns.
On a bitter blustery day, where throwing was difficult, Bell finished with a season-high 146 yards rushing as the Steelers improved to 2-3 on the road and avoided an embarrassing loss to the NFL’s worst team.
“We knew with the weather we had today that he was going to have to be big for us,” said Roethlisberger, who improved to 20-2 in starts against Cleveland, still paying for not drafting the Ohio native in 2004.
Making it worse, Roethlisberger’s 10 wins in Cleveland match Derek Anderson for the most home wins by a Browns quarterback since 1999.
Kessler sustained a concussion – his second this season – late in the third quarter. Kessler was being dragged down when he was hit by Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who launched himself and was called for unnecessary roughness. It’s not clear if Kessler was hurt by Timmons or when his head hit the turf.
Brown coach Hue Jackson said Kessler’s season could be over.
“We’re definitely going to talk to our medical staff,” Jackson said. “This is about a young man’s career and future. We have to do the right thing.”
Jackson didn’t think Timmons’ play was dirty.
“This is football,” he said. “This is a tough sport. I don’t think they were border line.”
Pittsburgh dominated the first half, but only led 6-0 before the strange final moments.
Starting at the Cleveland 41, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers to the Browns 3 with 8 seconds left. On second down, Roethlisberger’s pass to Antonio Brown in the end zone was incomplete as time ran out.
However, Browns defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun was called for holding, giving Pittsburgh another chance.
Again, Roethlisberger looked for Brown, who was dragged to the ground by star cornerback Joe Haden. Pass interference was called and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stayed aggressive and Bell bowled over the goal line to make it 12-0.
“That’s the mentality that coach has and the confidence he has in us,” Roethlisberger said. “We actually called a pass plan on that, and I ran to the sideline and told coach (offensive coordinator Todd) Haley, ‘No we need to run this because the boys up front want to run it.’ So we changed the play at the very last minute and Le’Veon got it in for us.”
Three NFL teams previously went 0-11 before winning a game – the 1975 Chargers, 1984 Bills, 2000 Chargers – while seven had even worse starts.
Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison is the club’s career sack leader.
Harrison drilled Kessler in the third quarter to pass Jason Gildon (77) for the most sacks in the Steelers’ storied defensive history. It’s likely Hall of Famers Joe Greene, Jack Lambert or Jack Ham could have more, but the NFL didn’t recognize sacks as an official statistic until 1982.
Harrison teared up in the locker room afterward.
Steelers: At Colts on Thanksgiving night.
Browns: Host Giants next Sunday.