Steelers surge to playoffs, Browns prepping for draft
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By WILL GRAVES
PITTSBURGH (AP) It was a game, yeah. But in some ways, it was also a job interview for Landry Jones.
And while the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback - who will become a free agent in March - didn't exactly ace it while filling in for Ben Roethlisberger in an otherwise meaningless regular season-finale against Cleveland, Jones did finish with a flourish.
Jones hit Cobi Hamilton in the left corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown with 2:57 left in overtime to lift the Steelers to a 27-24 victory over the Browns, sustaining Pittsburgh's momentum heading into the playoffs and giving Jones' resume a nice little boost in the process.
"It was hard the way that we won," Jones said. "But in the end, for a quarterback to do it in overtime, to do it on the last drive and to throw a pass like that - those are the things you dream about. I think for me that was just a big deal in my career."
Jones completed 24 of 37 for 277 yards with three touchdowns and an interception despite getting sacked four times for the first victory in a game he both started and finished. Jones went 6 for 8 on the last drive, including a fourth-down conversion to Demarcus Ayers.
"Landry Jones stayed in the fight, did a great job leading us down the stretch," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He had a no-blink attitude and demeanor, and it was good."
The rest of the reserves did pretty well in their own right while Pittsburgh sat Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown to preserve them for next week's visit from Miami in the opening round of the playoffs.
Hamilton caught three passes for 54 yards. DeAngelo Williams finished with 94 total yards and two touchdowns in his return from knee surgery.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey hauled in a 46-yard catch to set up a score, but also punched the ball out of Cleveland cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun at the goal line to prevent a pick-6 and keep the Steelers in the game.
So much for just going through the motions.
"We knew we were going to get more snaps and more balls thrown our way this week," Hamilton said. "We're hungry. You know AB gets all the balls. We're excited for the opportunity. I think everybody stepped up for the most part."
Other takeaways as the Steelers prep for a third straight playoff appearance while the Browns (1-15) prep for the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
STAYING THE COURSE: The turnstile that's been the head coaching job in Cleveland under owner Jimmy Haslam is coming to a stop. Haslam said after the worst season in the franchise's nearly 70-year history he has no plans to make sweeping changes. First-year head coach Hugh Jackson is safe , as is general manager Sashi Brown.
"Really pleased with Hue and really pleased with our personnel group," Haslam said. "I think we have the right people in place. It took us awhile to get there and I'll take all the responsibility there."
BACK FOR MORE: Cleveland quarterback Robert Griffin III threw for 232 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his most productive game since signing a two-year deal with the Browns in the offseason and missing more than two months with a shoulder injury. Brown said he'd welcome the chance to compete with a rookie quarterback if the Browns elect to use their top pick on someone such as North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky (a native of the Cleveland suburbs) or Clemson's DeShaun Watson.
RUN HEY-BEY RUN: Heyward-Bey's frantic chase down of Boddy-Calhoun epitomized why he's found a home in Pittsburgh. The former first-round pick has revived his career as a special teamer and he showed why when he raced 80 yards before finally catching Boddy-Calhoun at the pylon. "Man, when you've been through what I've been through you just go out and play football."
REMATCH: The Dolphins and the Steelers met in Miami on Oct. 16, when the Dolphins slugged their way to a 30-15 victory in what became running back Jay Ajayi's breakthrough performance. Pittsburgh's defense has improved significantly in the interim.
"They ran for 200 yards, enough said there," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "We can't allow that at all. That's not what we stand for."
STATS: Browns WR Terrelle Pryor caught seven passes for 94 yards to become the seventh receiver in Browns history to reach 1,000 yards receiving ... The Steelers have beaten the Browns 13 straight times at home. ... Williams had one rushing and one receiving touchdown for the second time in his career.
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Updated January 1, 2017