Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't put on a show at an emotionally charged Heinz Field on Monday night, but he walked off a winner.
Roethlisberger's 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Diontae Johnson early in the second quarter got things rolling after a slow start and the defense kept the heat on quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Browns' offense throughout in a 26-14 Steelers' victory.
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt had a career high four sacks, increased his total for the season to 21.5 and moved to within one of the NFL single-season record (Michael Strahan, New York Giants, 22.5, 2001).
Kicker Chris Boswell's third field goal of the night, a 50-yard effort, increased a six-point Steelers' lead to nine at 16-7 with 9:45 left in the fourth quarter.
The eight-play drive in 3:51 covered 26 yards, all on the ground.
Running back Najee Harris carried on the first four plays of the march and gained 23 yards to the Cleveland 34-yard line. Harris emerged from the drive with a season-high 136 yards on 23 carries for the night.
He finished with 190 yards on a season-high 28 attempts, including a 37-yard touchdown run that provided the exclamation point with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field
Boswell had added a 48-yard field goal at the end of a four-play, 7-yard effort in 1:35, for a 19-7 lead with 5:48 remaining in the fourth.
Roethlisberger went 24 of 46 passing for 123 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
The crowd of 63,624 chanted "Let's Go Ben" throughout and "Thank You Ben" as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The Steelers improved to 8-7-1, clinched a non-losing season for the 15th straight season under head coach Mike Tomlin and kept their postseason hopes afloat.
The Steelers' last losing season occurred in 2003 (6-10).
They drafted Roethlisberger on the first round in 2004.
The Browns, who had been eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, fell to 7-9.
The Steelers completed a season sweep of the Browns after having won, 15-10, on Oct. 31 in Cleveland.
The Steelers need a victory in this Sunday's regular-season finale at Baltimore, an Indianapolis loss this Sunday at Jacksonville and this Sunday night's Los Angeles Chargers-at-Las Vegas game not to end in a tie to qualify for the playoffs as a Wild Card.
Roethlisberger confirmed last week Monday night's appearance might well be his last at Heinz Field after 18 seasons with the Steelers.
"I would say that all signs are pointing to this could be it," he had noted.
Harris surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the season on his fourth carry. A 6-yard gain on first-and-10 from the Steelers' 31 on the Steelers' second possession pushed Harris' total for the season to 1,005 yards on the ground.
Roethlisberger finished the first quarter with seven completions in 12 attempts for 19 yards. Two of his first four connections lost yardage, a toss to tight end Pat Freiermuth for a loss of 4 and a hookup with Harris that lost 2.
The touchdown pass to Johnson capped a 10-play, 66-yard drive in 4:14.
Boswell's extra point gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 10:39 left in the first half.
The drive was extended by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for throwing wide receiver Chase Claypool's shoe after a pass to Claypool on third-and-10 from the Browns' 36 had gained 3 yards.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted Mayfield at the Cleveland 43 with 7:03 remaining before the break.
Witherspoon produced his team-leading third interception in his ninth appearance with the Steelers this season.
The Steelers turned the turnover into a 22-yard field goal by Boswell that finished off an 11-play, 39-yard drive in 4:01 for a 10-0 lead with 3:02 left in the first half.
The Browns' No. 3 rushing attack was held to 50 yards on nine carries, one a 32-yard burst by running back Nick Chubb, in the first two quarters.
Cleveland finished with 93 yards on 20 carries on the ground.
Mayfield completed four of 15 passes for 58 yards and was sacked twice, both times by Watt and both times on a third down, in the first 30 minutes.
He added a third on the night and pushed his season total to 20.5 on a third down in the third quarter. That made Watt the 12th player in NFL history to amass 20 sacks in a season.
Harris rushed 13 times for 71 yards in the first half.
He went over 100 yards for the third time this season on his 14th carry of the night, a season-long 30-yard jaunt that included a stiff-arm of Browns safety M.J. Stewart Jr. on the Steelers' first possession of the second half.
That helped set up a 30-yard field goal by Boswell that concluded an 11-play, 66-yard drive in 4:16 that increased the Steelers' lead to 13-0 with 8:20 left in the third.
The Browns didn't get on the scoreboard until 56 seconds remained in the third.
Mayfield's 3-yard pass to tight end David Njoku completed a four-play, 48-yard drive in 2:02. Kicker Chase McLaughlin's extra point sliced the Steelers' lead to 13-7.
Mayfield's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Harrison Bryant and McLaughlin's extra point with 1:10 left drew Cleveland to within 19-14.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick recovered the Browns' onside kick with 1:09 remaining.
J.C. Hassenauer started at center in place of Kendrick Green, who had been questionable with a calf injury.
Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane started at inside linebacker with Devin Bush and Joe Schobert on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Ulysees Gilbert III also saw snaps at inside linebacker.
Corliss Waitman punted and held for Boswell in place of Pressley Harvin III (questionable, personal reasons/illness).
Witherspoon played cornerback opposite Joe Haden in sub-packages and Cam Sutton moved inside with nickel cornerback Arthur Maulet unavailable (Reserve/COVID-19 list).