Game action as the Steelers traveled to FirstEnergy Stadium to take on the Browns in Week 17.
CLEVELAND -** The Steelers' offense took on more water along the shores of Lake Erie, losing running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant to injury in the regular-season finale against the Browns.
But has been the case all season long the Steelers' offense just kept coming.
"For me the first thing that pops to mind, I don't want to reflect or anything, but for me it's guys stepping up," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after Sunday's 28-12 triumph. "Coach (head coach Mike Tomlin) always says 'next man up, next man up.' But I don't know that that could be more true than (it has been) this year."
Running back Fitz Toussaint and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey were the latest to step up against the Browns and help the Steelers secure a spot in the playoffs.
"We've had guys step up through injuries before and we've never made the playoffs or we haven't done what we've done," this season, Roethlisberger continued. "To have, there's too many guys to name, but (center) Cody Wallace and (left tackle) Al (Villanueva), 'Hey-Bey,' (on Sunday), Fitz (on Sunday); guys have stepped up and done everything we can to not miss a beat."
SACK ATTACK: The Steelers had only gotten to quarterback Ryan Mallett one time during their 20-17 loss to the Ravens on Dec. 27 in Baltimore.
Their response was to come after Browns quarterback Austin Davis much more aggressively on the way to registering a season-high seven sacks.
"I think more blitzing and better execution," free safety Mike Mitchell assessed of what became an assault on the Browns' pocket. "Really, it comes down to us executing no matter what the coaches call."
WHERE HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE:** Linebacker William Gay dropped into coverage in compliance with the design of the defense prior to intercepting a pass intended for tight end Gary Barnidge on third-and-goal from the Steelers' 5-yard line early in the third quarter.
That hadn't been the case a few years back on what became an unforgettable coast-to-coast interception return in the Super Bowl against Arizona.
Harrison was supposed to rush that time but not this time.
"No, I was supposed to drop back," he confirmed. "They had us doing a little bit of coverage this week. I was able to do my part."
There was no length-of-the-field return into the opposite end zone this time, either.
Harrison returned the ball for 6 yards before being tackled by Barnidge.
"I wasn't there when he had the Super Bowl interception but I was like, 'If he gets loose I'm going to try to block for him,'" defensive end Cam Heyward said.
ALL FOR ONE: Harrison's interception helped the Steelers' defense limit the Browns to a combined three points on three possessions that had begun at the Steelers' 39, the Steelers' 24 and the Steelers' 9 following turnovers.
"We've had our ups and downs but that's a resilient group and equally as important that's a tight group," Tomlin observed of the defense. "They stayed together. I like the demeanor with which they took the field in some of those instances, they didn't blink. They've been in that situation some and they just responded appropriately.
"We appreciate that."
The players confirmed Tomlin's "tight group" characterization of the defense.
"We're a brotherhood here," linebacker Arthur Moates said. "We celebrate any time one of our guys makes a play just as if that was us making the play. At the same time, when our guys are doing something wrong we're the first one to correct them. If we know that you didn't make a play or that you can do something better we're going to tell you before the coaches get to you.
"I feel like that definitely helps out as far as being that tight-knit group and understanding that we're not playing for the fans, we're playing for ourselves, for our brother. We know, 'Hey, I don't want to let this guy down.'"
Added linebacker Ryan Shazier: "Camaraderie, great team defense. We play hard for each other, we do stuff together. This is like a family effect here. We really love each other. That's a tradition as a Steeler defense, we take that seriously. We have guys like Coach Butler (current defensive coordinator Keith) and Coach LeBeau (former defensive coordinator Dick) teaching like that, they show you the way and really set us on the right path."
Heyward considers the communication as critical to the Steelers' on-the-field success as the closeness the defenders share.
"We're honest with each other," he said. "We're able to address everything. The main thing is we understand where we fall short and we understand where we excel sometimes. And we understand that when adversity hits we have to band back together and step up."
RECOGNIZABLE AT RUNNING BACK: The Steelers signed Toussaint to the practice squad on Sept. 7 and added him to the 53-man roster on Nov. 27.
That familiarity might pay dividends in the event Williams (ankle) isn't able to play in the playoffs against the Bengals.
"Fitz has been here," Roethlisberger observed. "Last year (Ben) Tate comes in, kind of a last-minute thing (when Le'Veon Bell was hurt in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati) and we were kind of unprepared in that sense. If DeAngelo can't go I'm not going to speculate if he can or can't I think we are a little better off because Fitz has been here for a while."
THEY SAID IT:** "We didn't come this far just to come this far. We're in it to win it. 'Coach T' makes the expectations quite clear to you guys and to us at the beginning of every season." - Mitchell
"We got a ticket to the dance. It's an opportunity to get to the ultimate goal. The first step is to get into the playoffs and that's what we've done." - Harrison
"As long as we execute like we know how to execute and have that attention to detail, I like us versus anybody." - Moats
"We can't take this for granted. We have to make the most out of this situation." - Heyward
"This is the best feeling. I'm looking forward to embracing the challenge. We have the goods. We have what it takes. I'm looking forward to it." - offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert