CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns season ended in pretty much the same way it started – with a frustrating loss to a division rival.
It was not a fun season for the Browns but they did not go into the good night or into the offseason without a fight.
To their credit, Cleveland made the Steelers work hard for every inch of a 13-9 win late Sunday afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium, which at times looked and sounded more like Heinz Field.
“Fans will take care of that,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “We start winning these games there not going to be selling their tickets to Steelers fans anymore. They’re going to want to be sitting in those seats.”
The Browns finished the season 4-12 – the franchises’ sixth 12+ loss seasons in 13 years.
“It’s not enough wins,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I want this game to be the last game of the year where we’re talking about other things about where we’re playing our playoff game, who we’re playing against and those types of things. We’ve got to win games and I’m obviously not at peace with that, we’ve got to win more and that’s the bottom line and I get that.
“Now, we’ll get to the business of doing what we have to do to get our team as right as we can make it for next season.”
The Steelers have now won four straight, 16 of 17, 22 of 24 and 23 of 27 games between the two teams.
Isaac Redman’s seven-yard touchdown run in the third quarter would be all the points Pittsburgh would need as the Steelers’ defense made them stand up over the final 20 minutes of the game.
The Browns offense started slow as per usual – three and out’s on their first three possessions that included nine snaps, 16 yards, two sacks and three punts.
They were shut out in the opening quarter for the ninth time this season.
Pittsburgh misfired on their first scoring opportunity in the second quarter when Shaun Suisham was wide left on a 45-yard field goal attempt into the dawg pound.
The Browns took advantage – sort of.
Seneca Wallace scrambled for 27 yards to set the Browns up at the Steelers’ four but par for the course this season, Phil Dawson kicked a 26-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead and cap a 10 play 57 yard drive to eclipse their offensive output on their first three series.
Josh Cribbs made a pair of big catches before the half to set up Dawson’s second field goal – a 45-yard boot to cap and eight-play 40-yard drive and give the Browns a 6-0 lead with 1:03 to play in the half.
Cribbs had a career day at receiver finishing with a career high seven catches for 91 yards.
“I know how important it is to the fans,” Cribbs said. “That’s what football is all about- snowy, rainy, muddy all at the same time. The conditions are excellent for football. I love it, our fans love it, and we just have to find a way to win.
“I try to do everything I can do to help my team win.”
The Steelers countered with a 71-yard drive before the half but settled for a 19-yard field goal to make it 6-3 Cleveland at intermission.
On the drive, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown made a spectacular 40-yard catch on the near sideline to become the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in a season which set up Suisham’s kick.
Suisham opened the second half scoring with a 29-yard field goal to tie the game at 6.
Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace can campaign all he wants now to be a starting quarterback but he was underwhelming once again in place of Colt McCoy.
Wallace finished 16 of 41 for 177 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating was an embarrassing 42.4
He hopes and expects to get a look in 2012.
“There are always going to be people that doubt me and say that ‘you can’t play this, you can’t play quarterback, and you are too short,’ Wallace said. “You guys saw the last three games; all I want is to get a legit opportunity. That’s all you can ask for, at the end of the day you get a fair opportunity. I can’t worry about this and that.
“The only thing I can control is what I can control – going out there and competing every time I get a chance, regardless of the circumstances.”
The interception came in the third quarter courtesy of Troy Polamalu. Unfortunately for the Browns, Pittsburgh turned it into the game-winning points. Six-plays 43-yards later Redman, running in place of Mendenhall, scored from 7-yards out to put the Steelers up 13-6.
It would be all the points they’d need.
Phil Dawson hit a 49-yard field goal to pull Cleveland within 13-9 after Steelers coach Mike Tomlin curiously declined a holding penalty on a 3rd down incompletion but that was it for the offense.
“We just have to learn how to win these games,” Dawson said. “It’s not enough to put a good effort out there, but you have to actually make the plays to score points.
“We are close.”
The kick gave the Browns 218 points for the season, surpassing the 1999 output of 217. The Browns scored 161 in 2000.
Punter Brad Maynard had his first punt go for a touchback when a wind-aided 63-yard boot rolled into the end zone following the second series. He was four quarters away from becoming the first punter since 1988 to go 16 games without a touchback – he settled for one.
The Browns had their chances but as was the case many times this season – didn’t take advantage.
In the fourth quarter, Redman was stripped by Chris Gocong and the fumble was recovered by Eric Hagg. Tack on 15-yard personal foul set up the Browns 1st and 10 at the Steelers’ 43.
Then Mohamed Massaquoi struck again.
Massaquoi continued his underwhelming career by dropping a wide open pass at the 18 to stall the drive and the Browns eventually punted.
A last ditch effort in the closing seconds by Wallace and the Browns offense went for naught.
Effort wasn’t a problem this season.
Unfortunately effort wasn’t enough to win games.