Backup quarterback Landry Jones connected with little-known receiver Cobi Hamilton for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 2:57 left in overtime, as the Steelers outlasted the Browns, 27-24, in the 2016 regular season finale at Heinz Field.
Playing without many stars on offense–including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown, running back Le’Veon Bell and center Maurkice Pouncey–Pittsburgh fell behind 14-0 in the first half, thanks to touchdown passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III to Seth DeValve and Gary Barnridge, respectively, and by rights, could have faced an even bigger deficit, if not for costly mistakes by the visitors.
Late in the first half, Cleveland had a first and 10 from the Steelers 17, when Griffin was intercepted by linebacker Ryan Shazier at the two-yard line.
Following a quick punt by Pittsburgh, the Browns had possession just past midfield, when Griffin fumbled, and it was recovered by safety Sean Davis at the Cleveland 37.
The Steelers parlayed this particular mistake into a touchdown, when Jones connected with DeAngelo Williams on a short pass and the veteran running back alluded several Cleveland defenders on the way to an 11-yard touchdown.
The Browns seemed poised to go up by two touchdowns late in the third quarter, when Jones was intercepted by Boddy Calhoun, who appeared to return the pick 68 yards for a score. However, upon further review, it was revealed that Calhoun was stripped of the football by receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey at the one-yard line, and Jones recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.
The Steelers took advantage of this new life by marching 80 yards on 10 plays and tying the game on a one-yard plunge by Williams with 13:21 remaining in regulation.
Following a missed field goal by Cody Parkey midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers took their first lead of the day, when Jones found rookie receiver Demarcus Ayers for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 21-14 with 5:14 remaining.
QB Rankings: Who’s at the top as the season draws to a close?
NFL Mailbag: Who’s facing the most offseason questions
Winners and Losers:: Christmas came early for several teams this weekend
Bell team MVP: Teammates vote Bell Steelers MVP
Several Steelers to sit against Browns: Roethlisberger, Bell and Pouncey to sit in regular season finale
But the Browns (1-14 coming into the day) wouldn’t go down without a fight and tied the score three plays later on a five-yard touchdown run by George Atkinson III. The big play that set up the score was a 67-yard run by Isiah Crowell down to the Pittsburgh five-yard line.
Following a quick three-and-out by the Steelers, Cleveland looked poised to escape with the win, when Griffin connected with receiver Terrell Pryor on a 43-yard pass down to the five with only 1:12 remaining.
However, the Browns didn’t get to be 1-14 for nothing, and one play following the huge gain, Jarvis Jones forced Crowell to fumble, Mike Mitchell recovered at the three, and the game headed to overtime.
The Browns took the opening kickoff of overtime and again looked like a safe bet to win. Facing a third and goal from the nine, Cleveland appeared to come up short, but Mitchell was called for a face-mask penalty, which set up a first and goal from the two.
But on second down, Shazier read a quick screen to receiver Andrew Hawkins perfectly and forced a 14-yard loss back to the 16, setting up a 34-yard field goal by Parkey.
The Steelers then proceeded to march 75 yards on nine plays and escaped with their seventh-straight win, thanks to the touchdown from Jones to Hamilton.
Next up for the Steelers is a wildcard game against the Dolphins next weekend at Heinz Field (the day and time have yet to be determined).