Steelers drub lifeless Browns but fall short of playoffs

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PITTSBURGH -- Forget the 0-4 start. Forget the remarkable finish, the one that kept the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff picture until the final minutes of the regular season.

There's no such thing as partial credit in the NFL.

"We were an 8-8 team," safety Troy Polamalu said.

One that will spend January at home for a second straight year.

Le'Veon Bell ran for 90 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers drubbed the lifeless Browns 20-7 on Sunday, though Pittsburgh's bid to become the second team in NFL history to go winless in September and make the playoffs ended when San Diego edged Kansas City 27-24 in overtime.

"We are going to build on this," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I think we have put together a good foundation."

One that went 6-2 over the final eight weeks, recovering from a potentially franchise-altering 55-31 loss to New England on Nov. 3 to play perhaps the best football in the AFC by someone not named Denver over the second half.

Or, the exact opposite of what happened in Cleveland. The Browns (4-12) lost their final seven games and went just 1-10 since early October. Not exactly the step forward new owner Jimmy Haslam was looking for with a roster littered with five Pro Bowlers.

The underachieving led to head coach Rob Chudzinski being fired Sunday night.

"We appreciate Chud's passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally," the team said in a statement. "We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year."

Chudzinski's players did something after the game they failed to do during it: rally around their coach.

"It's just absurd to me that a report would be out like that, about a good coach like that," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "It's crazy, and that (ticked) me off when I heard that."

Cleveland didn't exactly play angry while letting the Steelers roll to victory for the 26th time in 31 meetings since the Browns were revived in 1999.

Roethlisberger passed for 179 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions as Pittsburgh won its third straight to avoid the franchise's first losing season since 2003.

"Guys just kept fighting," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. "Wasn't anything glorious or something beautiful, we just came out of nowhere."

Jason Campbell completed 23 of 41 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Josh Gordon caught seven passes for 82 yards to finish with an NFL-high 1,646 yards receiving, a first for the franchise. It proved little solace on a wet, miserable day at Heinz Field in which Cleveland looked very much like the same old Browns.

Cleveland was largely noncompetitive over the season's final three months, losing 10 of 11, with seven losses by a touchdown or more, including two to the Steelers by a combined 47-18.

Chudzinski called it simply "a difficult day."

There is no sense of panic in Pittsburgh. A season that appeared teetering on embarrassment after the record-setting loss to the Patriots ended up with a decidedly rosier finish.

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