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“Thank you, Ben.”
The Steelers faithful chanted it from the rafters all the way down to field before the game and after as Ben Roethlisberger’s Heinz Field career came to an end Monday night.
Two Super Bowl victories and 164 wins later, the Steelers quarterback had his swan song. While his performance was no 60-point à la Kobe Bryant in 2016, it was enough to lift the Steelers (8-7-1) to a 26-14 victory over the Browns (7-9).
Earlier in the week, Roethlisberger admitted the end was inevitably near.
“I don’t ever speak in definites or guarantees, that’s not what I’ve ever done or who I am,” Roethlisberger said Thursday. “But, looking at the bigger picture, I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it. Regular season that is, I know we still have a chance to potentially get a playoff game there if things fall our way and we take care of business and things have to happen.
“But, in the grand scheme of things, in terms of regular seasons, signs are pointing that way this could be it.”
Roethlisberger’s arm didn’t get much rest against the NFL’s No. 7 ranked defense, as Big Ben attempted 46 passes. He completed 24 of them for just 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The lone touchdown came with the game deadlocked at zero, with 10:39 remaining in the second quarter. Roethlisberger found his most dependable target all season long, Diontae Johnson, on a slant for a five-yard score.
For Johnson, it was his eighth touchdown of the season, a new career-high for the third-year man out of Toledo. Johnson finished with a team-high eight catches on 15 targets for 31 yards.
As was the case often this season, the Pittsburgh offense went as rookie running back Najee Harris went. Harris ran for a season-high 188 yards on 28 carries, averaging 6.7 yards a pop. His 37-yard touchdown run with 51 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on not only the game, but Roethlisberger’s Heinz Field career.
For Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, perhaps it was the the sea of terrible towels that clogged his vision. Or maybe it was the NFL’s sack leader, T.J. Watt, who was in the backfield frequently. Watt sacked Mayfield four times, now up to 21.5 on the season. Watt will enter Week 18 needing 1.0 to tie and 1.5 to break Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record. Strahan had 22.5 for the Giants in 2001. The Pittsburgh defense had nine sacks total.
Mayfield, meanwhile, had a start from hell.
Midway through the second quarter, Mayfield’s stat line read the following: 1-of-10, 20 yards, one interception, 0.0 passer rating. He became the first player this season to throw 10 consecutive incompletions in a game. If you tuned in to your first NFL game Monday night, chances are you thought the 26-year-old was on his way out. Not the 39-year-old in black and yellow.
Mayfield’s injury, his partially torn labrum, clearly affected him early on, missing receivers in space. The second half proved to be a better showing from Mayfield, particularly on the Browns’ third drive of the third quarter.
On a quick four-play, 48-yard drive, Mayfield completed both his pass attempts for 42 yards. Arguably his best throw of the night, a 39-yard rope over the middle to receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, put Cleveland within striking distance. He finished it off with a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku.
After the disastrous start, Mayfield threw for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 16-of-38 passing. Running back Nick Chubb, No. 3 in the league in rushing yards, remarkably received only 12 carries for 58 yards. As Peyton Manning pointed out on the Manningcast, most were left wondering if Chubb was injured, due to his lack of usage.
Next up for Roethlisberger is perhaps the last road start of his career, next Sunday against the Ravens.
With the win, Roethlisberger improved to 25-3-1 against the Browns for his career. It was also his 92nd home win, the most in Steelers history.
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