Steelers hope to reclaim home-field advantage
The Steelers haven't lost four consecutive home games in a season since they dropped their final six in 1969. But they must beat the Browns on Sunday to avoid a fourth straight loss at Heinz Field. Since winning their first four, they've lost to the Ravens, Chargers and Bengals. Cleveland has won only once at Heinz Field, in 2003. Pittsburgh owns the NFL's best home field record since 1970. “No game is meaningless,” Cortez Allen said. “We still have our pride. We're still the Steelers.”
• Brett Keisel remains baffled why his bow-and-arrow sack celebration Sunday cost the Steelers a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. “I've been here 11 years and nobody's ever said anything to me about that,” Keisel said. “It would have been nice to get that information before the game.” Keisel apparently was flagged for going to the ground to celebrate and simulating the firing of a weapon, albeit an ancient one. According to Fox NFL rules analyst Mike Pereira, Keisel should have been flagged before now.
• Mike Tomlin won't cite the never-ending injuries for his worst season since becoming the Steelers coach in 2007. But left tackle Max Starks, the only offensive linemen to play every snap, said at some point no team has the depth to counter numerous injuries. “Every single week, you're wondering, 'Who's injured this week?' Where is there going to be a new guy this week?' “ he said. “It just wasn't in the stars for us.”
• For only the third time since linebacker James Harrison debuted in 2004, the Steelers will miss the playoffs. He still isn't comfortable with the idea, and he can't pinpoint a reason why they will. “I don't know how we're going to be sitting at home,” he said. “It's crazy.”
• Ben Roethlisberger has directed 29 game-winning drives and 22 fourth-quarter comebacks during his career, but he's had only two this season, against the Eagles and Giants. Asked why, Tomlin said, “We're just not making critical plays.”
• ESPN analyst Cris Carter isn't surprised the Steelers will miss the playoffs. “The truth is, over the last two seasons, they haven't been that good,” said Carter, the former Vikings wide receiver. “With the offensive line injuries, they are not a good football team. I didn't have great expectations for the Steelers.”
• The Bengals (9-6) are expected to be major underdogs in their wild-card game — likely, against the Patriots — but Troy Polamalu isn't so willing to dismiss them. “A team that perseveres and makes plays like they do will (stay) in a game,” Polamalu said. “Those are the teams that are going to go far in the playoffs, or at least make noise in the playoffs.”
• The Steelers' third-down conversion rate, a league-best 52 percent eight games into the season, has slipped to 42.2 percent, still the sixth-best in the league. They were only 2 of 14 against the Bengals. “We haven't run the ball consistently so that affects the type of third-down situations that you're in,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I thought we got exposed a little bit with some pressure packages that have repeated themselves. We've improved in terms of how we handled them, but [we're] not above the line in order to win consistently, particularly in the number of ones that have been of longer yardage.” The Steelers played the last two games with rookies David DeCastro at right guard and Kelvin Beachum at right tackle.
• Charlie Batch, at age 38, goes into what might be his last NFL game as the Steelers' backup quarterback. Byron Leftwich lost the job after getting hurt against the Ravens on Nov. 18 and hasn't regained it. Batch hasn't played since leading the Steelers to their only win in their last five games, in Baltimore on Dec. 2. “Charlie has earned the right to dress based on merit and based on his performance when he was given the opportunity to play,” Tomlin said. This could be the final Steelers game for both Batch and Leftwich, since neither is signed past this season.