With one game left in regular play against the 0-15 Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin elected to sit out Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell.
Despite having a bye week for the first week of the NFL playoffs, the two stars on the offense took the bench. Taking the field in their places were Landry Jones and Stevan Ridley.
Also sitting out for rest were Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Cameron Heyward.
The 28-24 victory for the Steelers kept them undefeated in the AFC North, registering regular-season victories against the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and the Browns.
“It was great to go undefeated in the North,” said Tomlin. “It was significant for us. We realize if we want to do some of the things we want to do, it starts with AFC North football.”
Jones was almost perfect on passes, completing 23/27 for 239 yards.
“I can’t say enough about Landry,” said Tomlin. “We have a lot of confidence in him. He did the job.”
Jones found wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter, on a 20-yard pass.
That wasn’t the only time Smith-Schuster found the end zone; in the third quarter, he secured victory with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Smith-Schuster finished the day leading the receivers with nine receptions for 143 yards.
At quarterback, Jones also found Browns free safety Jabrill Peppers for an interception.
The Steelers kicked off their scoring in the first quarter on a 29-yard run from Darrius Heyward-Bey. The play was the only rushing play for Heyward-Bey.
Chris Boswell — who did not have to attempt a field goal — was perfect on all four extra point attempts.
As for the Browns offense, DeShone Kizer took the reins at quarterback, completing 16/30 passes for 314 yards.
Kizer found Rashard Higgins in the end zone twice for touchdowns in the second and third quarters. Higgins finished the day with three receptions for 68 yards.
Running back Duke Johnson found the end zone in the second quarter on a 2-yard run. Johnson rushed the ball six times for 20 yards.
Zane Gonzalez, rookie kicker, tacked on a 51-yard field goal later in the third quarter.
Kizer and his offensive line were tormented by the Steelers defense the entire afternoon. Six sacks in total were committed against Kizer by Tyson Alualu (2), T.J. Watt, Vince Williams, Sean Davis and L.J. Fort.
However, Watt was the first to give the credit to the cornerbacks and safeties.
“We also have to give credit to the guys in coverage who don’t always get credit for the sacks,” Watt said. “Without those guys covering the back end we wouldn’t be able to get to that number.”
The number Watt talked about was a franchise record of 56 single-season team sacks on defense.
“I’m happy for my guys,” Heyward said. “To go down in history and say in 2017 we set the record for sacks in Steelers history is awesome.”
Davis also caught an interception from Kizer while cornerback William Gay recorded a forced fumble against Johnson.
Now, the Steelers are resting and will be watching WildCard Weekend games to find out who their next opponent will be at Heinz Field on Jan. 14.
“We have experience, I think that’s a very important thing, but there’s a no-panic kind of feeling around the group,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s been a handful of games where we had to kind of come back or win it late or whatever it was, and guys just never panicked. There was never a worry, it was like ‘we can do this, we’re fine.’”
“That’s big going into the postseason.”