11:50 p.m.: When folks started blogging several years back, we in the mainstream media used to derisively say, "anyone can sit at home in their underwear and say what's on their mind." My, how things come back around.
We'll be doing today's blog from my family room couch, but thankfully for anyone who's ever seen me, not in my underwear. Pajamas, yes, underwear, no. A head cold decided to slap me around pretty good last night that I got as far as my couch this morning. So, we're going to do this from television. It should be interesting because when I do this blog from games, I never hear what's being said on television. So it'll be a different approach all the way around for me today.
As always and perhaps more than ever today, your thoughts and input are what make this blog successful. And there is a football game today against the hated Cleve Brownies (a nod to the late, great Myron Cope). The big question of the day is can the Steelers get the starters in and out of today's game without any injuries? We'll see. I'll be back later with inactives, but I just heard our Steelers reporter Ed Bouchette say on KDKA that LB James Harrison and S Ryan Clark will not dress today. We'll be back with more a bit later.
12:03 p.m.: Here are today's inactives. Steelers: S Ryan Clark, LB James Harrison, CB Fernando Bryant, LB Bruce Davis, T Tony Hills, T Jason Capizzi, DT Scott Paxon, QB Dennis Dixon (3rd quarterback). Browns: DB Travis Daniels, S Hamza Abdullah, TE Kellen Winslow, TE John Madsen, TE Darnell Dinkins, LB Leon Williams, DL Santonio Thomas.
Tyrone Carter will start in Clark's place, and Lawrence Timmons will start in place of Harrison.
12:17 p.m.: OK, the back story today besdes watching this game to see if any key Steelers are injured, is there are still five playoff spots up for grabs. Rather than try to explain it, which I could never do without screwing it up, here's a link to a site that explains it http://football.about.com/od/nationalfootballleague/a/playoffscenario.htm. If you can understand what that all means, you get the gameday gold star. Of course, the Steelers won't be scoreboard watching today because they're already in as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Just watch who the No. 6 seed in the AFC is because that team, even if it wins next week, can't play the Steelers. It's the only one besides, of course, the No. 1 Tennessee Titans.
12:42 p.m.: Since I rarely watch NFL pregame shows, today is an eye-opener of sorts for me. Bill Cowher is very good at this. He's likeable, knowledgeable, makes good points. Are we so sure he's ready to go back to coaching? I mean he could stay right where he is, make very good money and have some fun. Coaching in the NFL is a lot of things, but I'm thinking fun isn't one of the descriptions. Especially if you're Rod Marinelli and the Lions, who today can be the worst team ever by losing to Green Bay and going 0-16. I never thought I'd see a team go 0-16. I thought it was just impossible. But when I saw that sorry team play on Thanksgiving, I thought there was a very real chance it could happen.
12:59 p.m.: Getting ready for kickoff I guess the big thing to look for in today's game is if anyone gets injured. Big Ben, Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes are the three guys I'll be watching as critical guys you do not want hurt in a meaningless game. The Steelers need to take all the drama out of this game and get a early lead. A big lead at the half would be the perfect perscription for some key guys to sit and get ready for the playoffs.
I'll also be watching Browns QB Bruce Gradkowski. He's from here and played college ball at Toledo. I'm sure the local guy wants to make good, but he won't be a favorite of the fans at Heinz Field today. You can come home, but if you're in a Browns uniform, you may not be welcomed.
1:10 p.m.: Looks like the Steelers are trying to get Hines Ward his 1,000-yard receiving season early. Why does this team run screens? They are a terrible screen and draw team. And when you need Mitch Berger to shank one to put the Browns in a hole he booms it 49 yards. That's probably not the start they wanted.
1:20 p.m.: Ah, an Anthony Smith spotting. Looks like Ty Carter was injured on that tackle on Donte Stallworth, so that means Anthony "the guarantor" Smith is the free safety. And it looks like the Browns really want to play this game and the Steelers look, so far, like a team that has the No. 2 seed locked up.
1:24 p.m.: Thank you, swirling winds of Heinz Field. Plenty of distance on the Phil Dawson try, but the wind today seems to be pretty rough. The defense did its job, but the Browns still moved the ball pretty well. The Steelers offense has to get untracked at some point and this drive would be a good place to do it. I realize they may want to play it close to the vest, but you do want to get a nice lead on these guys so you can take out some starters. I can't believe Mike Tomlin is seriously going to play all the key guys the entire game. Time to strike hard at a defense that isn't that good. Nice start to the drive, getting Hines Ward his 1,000 receiving yards. It's the fifth time Ward has done that in his illustrious career.
1:30 p.m.: Maybe Ben needs to play this whole game to get his act together. Wow, that pass wasn't even close to Heath Miller. I think that's five turnovers for No. 7 in the last two games. You absolutely need to take care of the ball if you're getting ready for January football. Nothing new there, so how come it seems so hard to do? Now it's time for the defense to do a three-and-out on the Browns. Better yet, how about a defensive score, which may be how this team needs to get its points during the playoffs.
1:34 p.m.: Well, I'm sure the Steelers wanted to be up a TD or two after the first 15 minutes, but the Browns look like they are playing this one for coach Romeo Crennel, who is rumored to be gone after this game. Important third down here to see if the defense can get the ball right back for the offense. End of first quarter, Browns 0, Steelers 0.
1:38 p.m.: Maybe you run Jamal Lewis once on third down and get a first, but twice? A young QB not familiar with the system may be the savior the Steelers need today. NYCSteelersfan is correct in his comments on this blog about the running game. It just seems to have disappeared the past few games and doesn't seem particularly solvent today, either. This is the Achilles Heel for this team. I'm sure they want to keep banging away today to get Willie Parker going, but it looks like they just can't do it.
1:47 p.m.: How many mistakes can the Steelers make today. Wow, great play by Ben and Nate Washington, but Willie Colon had his once a game holding penalty on the play. He's getting torched by old man Willie McGinest. And of course that stops a promising drive. Tomlin looks ticked off and with good reason. Now illegal motion on the punt. These guys look like the Keystone Kops out there today.
1:52 p.m.: So Mitch Berger finally hits a good punt inside the 10 and on the first play you let Jamal Lewis get 10 yards? I realize this team can't be fired up about playing this game because their minds are on the playoffs, but at least make it a good tuneup.
2 p.m.: Who says this team can't run the ball. Probably the best block by Chris Kemoeatu in about 5 games, and Parker looked like the old Fast Willie that time. This has to happen consistently and it's not been around all year. But it was nice to see even if it is week 17. With 4:07 left in the 2nd quarter, Steelers 7, Browns 0.
2:06 p.m.: I don't know, looks like a catch and fumble to me. Anthony Smith, who would get some sunshine on what has been a cloudy tenure in Pittsburgh, has at TD stolen away. Why didn't Tomlin challenge that? But another good stand by the defense. Of course, the Browns have gone five-plus games without an offensive TD. No need to break that streak today.
2:14 p.m.: This is the worst-case scenario. Oh boy, Mike Tomlin's going to hear it now. Ben's taken so many hits over the past three years you wonder when it starts to take a toll.
2:19 p.m.: This does not look good. It looks like a concussion for a guy who can't really take many more shots to the head. Steve Tasker's saying on TV if Ben gets up that Tomlin will take him out even if he's OK. No kidding. All of McGinest fell on his face and head, I'm not surprised he's down. All game he's been getting hit. This is the worst nightmare the Steelers could possibly have.
2:29 p.m.: That's the best thumbs-up any Steelers fan could ever see. Whew. It's still not good, but at least all the extremities are moving. Here we go with Byron Leftwich. This is why you have good backups.
2:35 p.m.: Remember, he was a franchise QB at one time. Nice, athletic play by Leftwich for the score. And a big score. If they can get another one quick in the 3rd quarter, maybe they can get some other key players out. I think one heart-in-the-throat moment is enough for one meaningless game. With 32 seconds left in the 2nd quarter Steelers 14, Browns 0.
2:51 p.m.: Some halftime stats to enjoy with a sandwich and a beverage: Parker has 56 yards on 11 carries. Heath Miller has 5 grabs for 55 yards and two holding penalties. Mitch Berger has an average of 47.5 yards on 2 punts. Jamal Lewis has 12 carries for 54 yards. Bruce Gradkowski is 4-of-7 for 20 yards.
TV just said the Steelers announced the Ben has a concussion. The week off will help, but you never know with those things. They can linger. And as we all know, this guy has had enough problems with concussions. Let's hope he gets well soon, not for football reasons, but because concussions are so dibilitating. Time for the second half.
2:58 p.m.: We have a Keyaron Fox siting at linebacker early in the second half. Looks like James Farrior is being rested. If they weren't so short at safety, you wonder if Polamalu wouldn't be out now, too.
3 p.m.: I see some talk among you guys about drafting offensive lineman. And you could have done so where the Steelers picked last year, but by that time, the top 7 OLs were already selected. You would not have gotten first-round talent had you picked an offensive lineman because that draft had great linemen at the very top and then quickly dropped off. Remember Tony Hills who the Steelers drafted in the 4th round out of Texas? Didn't think so. He's not been active all year. I think you have to look free agent or if you read Ed Bouchette's Inside the Steelers today, he says the Steelers may look at signing Marvel Smith if his latest surgery cures his back issues. LTs are hard to find.
3:11 p.m.: With that Limas Sweed block in the back call, makes me realize that Hines Ward's day is probably over, too. I'll keep looking, though. This is one of the problems with watching on TV. You can't see the entire field.
3:12 p.m.: If they can punch in this one, and they should, you might see a couple more key starters head for the sidelines. Steve Tasker actually makes a good point earlier when he says they can dress only 45 players per game and there is no third team. Some guys just have to play because there aren't enough backups. And as far as the comments about the toughness of the sport and that there will be injuries, that point is well taken. But you can protect key guys. And in my mind, Ben Roethlisberger is a key guy. Would have liked a TD there, but you take what you can get. With 5:35 left in the 3rd quarter, Steelers 17, Browns 0.
3:22 p.m.: Maybe the Browns should line Josh Cribbs up at QB and let him work. That was a very nice pass. Not to knock the local guy Gradkowski, but he's had a rough day. It has to be brutal to come into a game like this where you're the 4th QB the team has used all season and you have to come into Pittsburgh and play the best defense in the NFL. His stats are 4 for 11 for 20 yards and a pick. Tough situation all around.
3:29 p.m.: What could I have been thinking. Hines Ward coming out of a game? Never, even if it's meaningless. Parker is at 90 yards rushing and now I see Mewelde Moore in the game. He's barely been in the game today, but he looked good on that 9-yard run. One more quarter to go to a 12-4 season. End of the 3rd quarter, Steelers 17, Browns 0.
3:35 p.m.: You know, this draft class is just wasted. Limas Sweed has been mentioned twice today, once for a block in the back and once on a hold. I know it takes longer for WRs to grow into jobs than, say RBs, but he's not stepped up at all this year especially for a 2nd-round pick. I think he'll be a decent WR in his career, but never the game-breaker a lot of folks thought he'd be. I know I was happy with that pick in round 2, but I'm sure the Steelers expected more from him.
3:39 p.m.: That's as nice a scoring drive as I've seen all season and there were plenty of backups in there. If nothing else from this nothing game, maybe there's some confidence being infused into the offense. Willie Parker's day is likely finished with 116 yards on 23 carries. That's a heartening stat, too. This wasn't dominant on offense, but this team is rarely dominant on offense. With 9:41 left in the 4th quarter, Steelers 24, Browns 0.
3:46 p.m.: Maybe Ty Carter should get hurt more often early in games, then come back in and pick off a couple balls, scoring on one. There's the defensive touchdown I think they'll need to win playoff games. Let's just hope it's not a couple weeks too soon. With 8:43 left in the 4th quarter, Steelers 31, Browns 0.
3:55 p.m. Dennis Dixon's debut. He is listed on the inactives because he's the 3rd QB, but he is allowed to play. I think since Ben's out, it's OK for Dixon to play. Off to a rough start is our guy Dixon, but he just made the Steeler record books by throwing the 800th catch of Hines Ward's career. That's going to be a great trivia question one day. Who threw the pass to make Ward the all-time Steelers receivers leader.
4:02 p.m.: That puts Jamal Lewis over 1,000 yards for the season, which, considering how poorly the offense has performed and all the QB injuries, is a significant accomplishment. I'm glad Romeo Crennel, who is more than likely coaching his last game with the Browns, gave him that shot. But if he's pulled, then he's short of 100 yards. That means the Steelers did not have a runner gain 100 yards against them this season.
4:09 p.m.: That was pretty much a snoozer except for Big Ben's concussion. Nice stuff done by the offense and it was good to see Parker get his 100 yards. Nothing overly impressive about the win considering the opposition, but the defense was up to the task again. I'm going to watch the post-game stuff to see what I can glean and will be back later with some final thoughts. Final score, Steelers 31, Browns 0.
4:24 p.m.: Not a whole lot from Tomlin post game. I'm surprised no one asked Tomlin if he had second thoughts once he saw Ben laid out on the field. Legit question, I think. He said Ben's tests have turned up negative, which is good. But we'll see how things go in the off week. I'll be back a bit later. By the way, it's official: Lions finish 0-16. Next time you complain about the team we follow, remember that you aren't dealing with 0-16. You are dealing with 12-4.
5:10 p.m.: Here are some final thoughts on today's game:
-- The best thing about today is seeing Willie Parker get 116 yards rushing. I don't think he's been 100 percent most of the season and we saw flashes today of what he used to be in this offense. Give him a week of rest and maybe, just maybe, the Steelers get back some of the old Willie Parker. That would go a long way toward a playoff run.
-- The offensive line still needs way too much work this late in the season. This was Cleveland and they nearly got Big Ben killed. Though, to be fair, Ben holds that ball an awfully long time in the pocket. In the playoffs, that unit is going to have to play above its level thus far. Can they? It's hard to do this late in a season.
-- Playing starters. I guess it's easy to second-guess Mike Tomlin about playing starters and particularly Roethlisberger. I thought Roethlisberger was so beat up all season that a couple weeks off might have helped him. But I give Tomlin credit for sticking to his guns and playing the starters. And winning the game.
-- You can draw some things from this game, but you also have to consider that Cleveland has been just awful this season. In total yards, the Steelers had 369 compared to 126 for the Browns. And Gradkowski's passer rating was something like 2.8. It was a tough situation for him and that entire team. You figure your coach, and probably your general manager, are gone maybe as early as Monday. It makes you just want to end the season if you're a player.
-- If you had bet any number of bar beverages that the Steelers would finish 12-4 with their schedule, you'd not only be quite inebriated, but you'd also belong in Vegas making a killing on football wagers. It was, no matter the playoff outcome, a terrific season. With the injuries and a pieced-together O-Line, they managed to win 12 games. Pretty incredible, actually.
Thanks for participating with all the comments. Now, the playoffs await.