For a team that supposedly couldn’t lose, the Steelers nearly sustained the worst possible setback going into the playoffs.
The Browns ended a miserable season with an embarrassing loss that may lead to another, that of Romeo Crennel’s job.
Ben Roethlisberger gave playoff-bound Pittsburgh a major scare by sustaining a concussion during a 31-0 rout over the Browns on Sunday, a game notable only in that it likely was Crennel’s last as Cleveland’s coach.
Roethlisberger, expected to play a half to stay sharp before a two-week break, lay on the turf for nearly 15 minutes after being leveled by Willie McGinest and D’Qwell Jackson while delivering a pass late in the second quarter.
Hospital tests revealed no other injuries, and the quarterback probably will be ready when the No. 2-seeded Steelers (12-4) play an AFC division game on Jan. 10 or Jan. 11.
“We are optimistic of where he’s going to be,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Again, it is encouraging.”
Roethlisberger’s injury highlights the risk NFL coaches take by playing regulars once a team’s playoff positioning has been determined.
Tomlin didn’t want his key players sitting for three weeks, and most lobbied to play.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu was determined to play until the end, sneaking onto the field after Tomlin thought he had pulled him.
“We rested last year and it didn’t get us anywhere,” Hines Ward said, recalling how most starters were held out against Baltimore the week before a playoff loss to Jacksonville. “It’s our last dress rehearsal for two weeks. Sit all the guys out, now you’ve put us at three weeks [resting], and you get some rust.”
Rusty doesn’t begin to describe a Cleveland offense that ended the season by failing to score a touchdown for six games and 24 quarters, an NFL record.
Starting their fourth quarterback — one for every victory — the Browns (4-12) threw for only 26 yards, tying for the second-fewest in club history.