Jan. 3, 2016: Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
Vick Seals Perfect Season for Steelers with 19-10 Victory Over Browns
In an attempt to play the big spoiler, the Browns jumped out in front
of the Steelers with an early 3-0 lead, but it would be their only lead of
the game as a perfect season was a thing of destiny for Pittsburgh in
2015. While the Steelers had achieved the second 16-0 record in NFL
history (after the 2007 New England Patriots), the beleaguered Browns
descended near the bottom of the heap with a record of 3-13.
Vick performed admirably in relief of the resting Ben Roethlis-
berger, completing 25 of 34 passes for 254 yards, a touchdown, and
zero interceptions. Star receiver Antonio Brown also sat out today's
game, which put the slack on fellow wide receiver Darrius Heyward-
Bey to pick up, and he lead the team with six catches for 66 yards. Tight
end Jesse James hauled in four balls for 55 yards. Replacing the resting
starter Le'Veon Bell, running back D'Angelo Williams grabbed seven
passes for 54 yards and rushed for 68 yards on 21 touches, but also
Browns' backup quarterback Austin Davis got the start in place of
the inactive Johnny Manziel, who became the latest victim in the game
of musical chairs that the Browns were playing with their quarterbacks
all season. Davis had a rough day, completing 15 of 33 passes for 137
yards, albeit without interceptions. Running back Isaiah Crowell led
136 The Greatest Football Team
his team in receiving with four catches for 28 yard. He also rushed for
59 yards on 14 carries.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward led the Steelers in sacks with two
and tackles with six. Linebacker James Harrison contributed a sack and
five tackles. Defensive tackle Steve McLendon recorded a sack and
two stops. Safety Mike Mitchell made three tackles in an impressive
return to the lineup (he suffered a knee injury in week 5's contest
against San Diego).
Browns cornerback K'Waun Williams recovered D'Angelo Wil-
liams' fumble. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo sacked Vick once and
made nine tackles. Linebacker Paul Kruger registered a sack and seven
tackles. Safety Tashaun Gipson made five stops on the day, with fellow
safety Donte Whitner and linebacker Craig Robertson recording four
The Browns won the coin toss and elected to defer. Coons' kickoff
was downed in the end zone for a touchback. Starting at their 20-yard
line, the Steelers offense went a quick three-and-out.
Jordan Berry punted the ball away 46 yards into the awaiting arms
of Browns wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who returned the ball five
yards to the Cleveland 36-yard line. The Browns offense established
the running game immediately, with Crowell rushing for a total of 15
yards on the first three plays of the game. After Davis completed two
passes for a total of 29 yards, the drive reached the red zone. However,
the Pittsburgh "D" proved their mettle with a blitz and a massive 9-yard
loss on Heyward's first sack of the game. The Steelers pass-rush pres-
sure was too much, and on 3rd-and-goal from the 18-yard line, Davis
threw incomplete. The Browns had to settle for a field goal attempt
from the 35-yard line, which was successful.
Week 17 137
It’s a long day for the Browns O-line
Coons' kickoff was downed in the end zone for a touchback. Vick
went to work at the Pittsburgh 20-yard line, connecting on his first three
pass attempts for 36 yards in total and picking up two first-downs on
two consecutive plays. However, Williams ran into a brick wall on his
two carries, and Vick threw an incompletion, so on 4th-and-6 at the
Cleveland 45-yard line, the Steelers punting squad came out.
Berry's punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback, and the ball
came out to the Cleveland 20-yard line. The Pittsburgh defense forced
a quick three-and-out that was capped off by McLendon sacking Davis
for a 5-yard loss.
Andy Lee's punt soared 62 yards to Markus Wheaton, who returned
the ball five yards to the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. Vick completed five
passes in a row, going six of seven for 54 yards overall, before Kruger
sacked him for an 8-yard loss. The promising drive stalled at the 18-
yard line in the teeth of Browns' red zone defense, and Scobee was
called on to attempt the second field goal of the game. The kick from
the 35-yard line was good, and the score was at 3 each with just under
10 minutes remaining in the first half.
138 The Greatest Football Team
Heyward-Bey makes an acrobatic catch in the red zone
Scobee's kickoff was downed in the end zone for a touchback. The
Browns tried to reestablish the ground game, but Crowell came up short
of first-down yardage on three consecutive carries.
Lee punted the ball away 51 yards to the awaiting Wheaton, who
brought it back two yards to the Pittsburgh 23-yard line. The Steelers
moved the chains four times as Vick shredded the Browns secondary,
completing eight out of nine pass attempts for 72 yards. The textbook
drive was crowned by the lead-taking 4-yard touchdown toss to the
third running back Jordan Todman. Scobee's kick was good, and the
Steelers were up 10-3 at the two-minute warning.
Scobee's kickoff was downed in the end zone for a touchback. At
first, Browns' two-minute drill showed some promise when Davis com-
pleted four out of six pass attempts for 37 yards, but it fizzled at the
Pittsburgh 43-yard line after three consecutive incompletions. Lee
punted the ball away, Vick took a knee, and one half of the team's final
regular season game was history.
Week 17 139
Davis finds himself under constant pressure
To begin the second half, Scobee's kickoff was downed in the end
zone for a touchback. Crowell rushed for two yards, and Davis threw
an 8-yard pass for a first down. However, after Crowell ran for another
three yards, Davis couldn't find his receivers on the next two pass at-
Lee's booming 54-yard punt met with a good 13-yard return by
Wheaton, who just missed breaking loose to go the distance. After an
offensive holding call moved the ball back 10 yards, and the Steelers
lost another nine yards on Mingo's sack, it was fourth down.
Berry managed to put his foot to the ball and avoid a block, but ended
up on the ground looking for a flag that never came. Travis Benjamin
fielded the 41-yarder and returned it six yards to the Cleveland 49-yard
line. The Steelers defense seemed to ratchet it up a notch, causing a
net loss of one yard on Browns' next series of downs, and Lee was on
the field once more to punt the Browns out of a predicament.
Lee's 45-yarder arced down at about the Pittsburgh 7-yard line,
where Wheaton, having a strong returning day, ran the punt back a
tough nine yards to the Steelers 16-yard line. Steelers' offense fought
their way out of the adverse field position. Vick continued to capitalize
on short pass completions, and Williams' short bursts chipped away at
the Browns defense. The door was ultimately slammed at the Cleveland
140 The Greatest Football Team
26-yard line, but Scobee's 43-yard field goal attempt was good. The
Steelers now led 13-3 with less than two minutes remaining in the third
Browns running back Raheem Mostert returned Scobee's kickoff
eight yards to the Cleveland 10-yard line. Following three straight in-
completions, the Browns were facing another fourth down.
Wheaton again reduced Browns' net yardage on the punt, returning
Lee's 46-yarder 13 yards to the Cleveland 43-yard line. With a good
field position, the Steelers offense continued to control the ball, calling
short pass plays and an equal number of rushes. Vick completed each
of his three passes for a total of 26 yards, while Williams picked up 15
yards on the ground. However, the final gain on third down was one
yard short of the end zone. Pittsburgh decided to play it safe and settle
for Scobee's chip-shot. The 18-yard field goal made it 16-3, a two-
touchdown game for the Browns with 10:23 left on the clock.
Williams rushes for seven yards and a first down
Mostert returned Scobee's kickoff seven yards to the Cleveland 11-
yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Crowell made the high-
light reel of the day by shooting out of the blocks for a 23-yard carry.
Davis went into an early two-minute drill mode, completing seven out
of nine pass attempts for 56 yards. However, the drive ended just as
Week 17 141
energetically as it had started, but moving in the opposite direction. On
1st-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 14-yard line, Harrison broke through the
offensive line to drop Davis nine yards behind the line of scrimmage.
On the very next play, Heyward repeated Harrison'sperformance, sack-
ing Davis for another 9-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, the Browns
were staring at a 4th-and-28 at the Pittsburgh 32-yard line. Probably
due strong winds in Cleveland, coach Mike Pettine made the curious
decision to not try a field goal.
The Steelers defense celebrates another stop
Lee kept his punt this side of the goal line, with Wheaton catching
the ball at the Pittsburgh 6-yard line and running it out for five yards.
142 The Greatest Football Team
The Steelers quickly moved the ball on the ground to the 26-yard line,
but on his fourth carry in a row, Williams fumbled. K'Waun Williams
recovered the ball for the Browns and brought it back to the Pittsburgh
9-yard line. Three plays later, Browns' third-string quarterback Pat
Devlin (replacing the battered Davis) connected on a trick play with
Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown pass, and Coons kicked the extra
point. All of a sudden, the Browns were within striking distance to play
the big spoiler, trailing 16-10 with just 1:54 remaining in the game.
However, the Steelers didn't panic and recovered Coons' onside kick
at the 50-yard line. On first down, Vick threw complete to tight end
Matt Spaeth for a 19-yard gain. Then Williams was given a chance to
redeem himself for the fumble. He grinded out seven yards on three
carries as the O-line was unable to open up holes. Nevertheless, the
Steelers had advanced the ball far enough for a field goal attempt.
Scobee succeeded from 41 yards out to make the score 19-10, and it
was again a two-score game with only 1:09 left on the game clock.
Mostert returned Scobee's kickoff 19 yards to the Cleveland 23-yard
line. With only a minimal amount of face-saving to be had at this junc-
ture of the game (and the season), the Browns sent relief running back
Duke Johnson up the middle for 12 yards. After Devlin threw a pass
for seven yards to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, Johnson eked out an-
other yard on the ground. The clock struck 00:00, and the scoreboard
read Steelers 19, Browns 10.
Pittsburgh Steelers in Review
• Pass Offense B
• Run Offense C
• Pass Defense A-
• Run Defense B+
• Special Teams B
• Coaching B-
1. Cameron Heyward
2. Michael Vick
3. Darrius Heyward-Bey
Week 17 143
News around the league: Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North
title and the #2 NFC seed. New England Patriots clinched the AFC East
title and the #2 AFC seed. Arizona Cardinals clinched the NFC South
title. Houston Texans clinched the AFC South title. Kansas City Chiefs
clinched the AFC West title. Washington Redskins clinched the NFC
East title. Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills clinched wild card spots.