Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
3:58
PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns.

What it means: The Steelers somehow stayed alive for the sixth and final spot in the AFC playoffs. They controlled the game they had to win to finish 8-8 and then got the help they needed from the Jets and Bengals. Even if the Steelers don’t make the playoffs -- they need the Chiefs to beat the Chargers in San Diego -- they finished strong and have something to build on going into the offseason. The Steelers won eight of their last 12 games following the franchise’s first 0-4 start since 1968.

Stock watch: Le’Veon Bell may have been the best player on the field, and he closed out his first NFL regular season with a flourish. Bell rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, and he took over the game on the Steelers’ second touchdown drive. Bell ran for 41 yards on the 14-play, 67-yard drive that gave the Steelers a 14-0 lead. He displayed his blend of patience and power on a gray, rainy day made for running the ball. Bell, who missed the first three games with a foot injury, closed the season with 214 rushing yards in the Steelers’ final two games. He also broke the record for yards from scrimmage by a Steelers rookie that Franco Harris established in 1972.

Fond farewell: If defensive end Brett Keisel played his final game at Heinz Field, the 12-year veteran went out in style. Keisel registered a sack and a forced fumble on the same play in the first quarter, and he helped the Steelers shut out the Browns until the final few minutes of the game. Keisel and free safety Ryan Clark are among the players who will be unrestricted free agents after this season; neither is likely to return. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders also faces an uncertain future as an impending free agent, although he played against the Browns despite nursing a sprained knee. Sanders caught two passes for 26 yards.

What a season: Antonio Brown established one record and nearly broke another as he added the exclamation point to the best season ever by a Steelers wide receiver. Brown, who caught nine passes for 87 yards, became the first player in NFL record with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards in every regular-season game. His 1,499 receiving yards are a franchise single-season record. Brown also finished with 110 catches, two fewer than the 112 grabs Hines Ward had in 2002.

Injury update: Jason Worilds did not play because of an abdominal pull he suffered in Weel 16, and nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery were among the players who left this game because of injuries. Despite the absence of Worilds, who led the team with eight sacks this season, the Steelers dropped Browns quarterback Jason Campbell three times.

What’s next: The Steelers are headed to Cincinnati or New England -- if the Chiefs can upset the Chargers. Kansas City is not playing a bunch of key starters since it is already locked into the No. 5 playoff seed, and quarterbacks Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles are among the Chiefs who are not dressing for the game.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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