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(Sunday, January 2nd)
Final Score: Pittsburgh 41, Cleveland 9
Cleveland, OH (Sports Network) - Rashard Mendenhall rushed for two touchdowns and Ben Roethlisberger tossed for two more, as the Pittsburgh Steelers abused the Cleveland Browns, 41-9, to capture the AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore both ended the regular season with 12-4 records, but the Steelers edged the Ravens for the No. 2 seed by one more division win.
"Mission accomplished for us. We're excited," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're proud to be AFC North champs and to have the bye week. It's much- needed...Today was probably our first game where we felt like we were able to play close to what we're capable of in division play."
Roethlisberger, who has led Pittsburgh to four division titles in seven seasons, ended with 280 yards on 15-of-22 throws, while Mike Wallace caught three passes for 105 yards and a score.
Colt McCoy ended his rookie campaign on a sour note with three interceptions for Cleveland (5-11), which limped to the finish line with four consecutive losses. The Texas product completed 20-of-41 attempts for 209 yards with a TD.
"We didn't execute on offense and stay on the field like we should have. It puts your offense and defense in a bind," McCoy said before reflecting on his season. "I've earned a lot of experience that's really going to help...I'm fired up. When I come back next year I'm not a rookie anymore, and it'll be time to play and time to go."
The Steelers were in control throughout the regular season finale, scoring on all six possessions with Roethlisberger under center.
Their perennial Pro Bowl safety, Troy Polamalu, returned from a two-game absence and made an immediate impact with an interception on the second play from scrimmage. On the next snap, Wallace got behind the secondary and hauled in Roethlisberger's 56-yard bomb for an early lead that was quickly extended.
Wallace's 41-yard catch and run highlighted a 10-play, 71-yard march that Mendenhall capped with a one-yard run with 6:57 left in the opening quarter.
The Browns made headway on their next touch but settled for a 19-yard Phil Dawson field goal after Robert Royal dropped a sure touchdown.
Pittsburgh continued to impose its will on offense on the ensuing possession, which ended in another Mendenhall one-yard romp for a 21-3 cushion.
McCoy was intercepted on Cleveland's next two drives. The Steelers converted the first turnover into Heath Miller's four-yard touchdown reception and the second into Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal for a 31-3 halftime lead.
Pittsburgh held the ball for the first 7:42 of the third and scored on a trick play near the goal line. On third down from three, Antwaan Randle El took an end around pitch, changed direction behind the line of scrimmage and threw back to an uncovered Hines Ward in the right corner of the end zone.
With the outcome no longer in doubt, Byron Leftwich relieved Roethlisberger for the rest of the game.
Suisham added a 24-yard field goal early in the fourth, and the Browns scored their lone touchdown on Brian Robiskie's 20-yard reception with 6 1/2 minutes remaining.
The Steelers have won 14 of the past 15 games between the teams...The Browns ran for just 43 yards, as Pittsburgh set a new franchise record by allowing a mere 1,004 rushing yards on the season. The 62.8-yard per game average by opposing running games ranks as the fifth fewest in NFL history...The Steelers finished 7-1 on the road for the first time since 2004...Wallace posted his seventh 100-yard receiving game, tying John Stallworth's franchise record...Polamalu, who tied a career-high with seven interceptions this year, sat out the previous two games because of an ankle injury...McCoy tossed three interceptions in his first six games this season but was picked off six times in his final two contests...Cleveland's Peyton Hillis was nursing sore ribs and was held to 13 yards on six carries.
01/02 18:04:41 ET