By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers secured a 24-10 season-ending victory against the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field by running the ball hard, passing it efficiently and forcing turnovers on defense, things they didn’t do consistently throughout a year that ended with an 8-8 record.
That mark wasn’t good enough to qualify for the AFC playoffs, and it was the second time in four seasons that didn’t happen for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
“Obviously, we’ve experienced some professional disappointment in the big picture,” Tomlin said during his post-game press conference. “But in the small picture, we had a game to play today, and a game to prepare for today and win. (So), it was a good winning note for us and a good team effort.”
There were contributions from several players on both sides of the ball, but none were bigger than Cortez Allen. The second-year cornerback forced two fumbles, recovered one and returned it 21 yards. Both turnovers gave the Steelers the ball with a short field, and they turned each into a touchdown.
That gives Allen five forced turnovers in the past two weeks. He had two fumbles and an interception against the Cincinnati Bengals last week.
“The games that we’ve lost have been tough, close losses, and we’ve had a lot of injuries that have set us back at times,” Allen said. “I don’t know where we’ll finish up defensively, but I think we’ve got a great football team. And I’m extremely blessed to play here with this group of guys.
“As far as my play is concerned, I’m just doing what I can to help the team. I’m going to work hard in the offseason to get better for next season, and everything else will take care of itself. … I don’t get into whether I deserve to start after this or anything else, but I am glad I helped the team win today.”
FOOTE (PENDING UFA) ON WHAT HE’S GOING TO TAKE TO BARGAINING TABLE
There was one consolation for the Steelers, as an 8-8 record marked the ninth straight non-losing season for them. That dates to 2003 when Bill Cowher coached the team to a 6-10 record. Only Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel were with the Steelers then.
“There could be some changes,” Foote said. “Hopefully, I’m back, but I know that on the other side (management), Kevin Colbert does a better job running the team than I do. But I still feel good, and I’ve stayed healthy. Thank God. And, at 32, you’ve got to be healthy and be productive. I think I did that.
“Plus, we finished with the No. 1 defense in the league. So, that’s what I’m going to the bargaining table with, if they open one up for me. (But) you can’t lobby at this age. Either they want you or they don’t. So, we’ll find out. … I was cracking some jokes and laughing with Casey on the sideline at the end.
“We were just sharing a couple moments,” Foote added. “Hopefully, it’s not our last, but if it is it’s been a great ride. There’s been a lot of ups, a few downs, but a lot of ups. And I’m glad I came back after one season away. This is the place that I want to be if they’ll have me back.”
Among the more versatile Steelers this season is offensive lineman Ramon Foster. A fourth-year veteran who was an undrafted free agent when the Steelers signed him as a rookie in 2009, Foster can play both guard and both tackle spots on the line. He had to move to right tackle against the Browns after Kelvin Beachum suffered a concussion.
“It was just one of those things, again, where we were lucky to have two extra linemen dressed today,” Foster said. “I hate to say it’s the norm for us, but it sure feels that way after the last couple years. We owe a lot to O-line coach (Sean) Kugler and the job he did, but we’ve also had a lot of guys step up.
“I think we proved that we’re definitely resilient. We’ve had a lot of guys go on IR or injured for weeks at a time, but we’ve just shown time and time again that we’ve got a lot of fighters here. And everybody did a good job, from the coaching to the players, so I think we can be proud of that.”
Final notes: Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said that he was so proud of his offensive line mates that he was taking them all to the Pro Bowl with him.
“He said he’s the first center in history to get voted in three straight years, and since he wasn’t able to go the last two he wants to celebrate with us this season,” Foster said. “So, he’s going to take us all out there, and if he wants to do that I’m not going to argue with him.”
The 2013 NFL Draft order won’t be finalized for about a month, but it looks like the Steelers should get a mid-round pick with the regular season coming to an end. They were 14th heading into the final game, but that will change with the victory against the Browns.