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The Browns (4-12) lost their last six games and nine of 10 under first-year coach Pat Shurmur. Cleveland was competitive _ the Browns lost their final three games by a combined 13 points _ but wound up with one less win that last season.

“We intended to win a lot more games than that,” said cornerback Joe Haden. “The only thing that kept us going is we didn’t really get blown out in any games. We need to find a way to come up with a big play, come up with the big stop, the big score and the season would be totally different.”

Shaun Suisham made two field goals for the Steelers, who won 12 games for the second year in a row, something they haven’t done since 1978-79. They won the Super Bowl both those years.

Motivated by losing last season’s Super Bowl to Green Bay, Pittsburgh opened the season by getting blown out by Baltimore. But the Steelers recovered and will now make another run at a Lombardi Trophy.

“We have a lot of veterans who know what January football is all about,” said safety Ryan Clark. “Now’s the time to go play it. We kind of limped in and it would have been huge to get a bye and get guys healthy. Now we have to go and play better on the road. I believe this team can win anywhere.”

Phil Dawson kicked three field goals for all of Cleveland’s points.

Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had five catches and became the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 career catches.

Ward grabbed a shovel pass in the fourth quarter, and although it lost three yards, it got him to the milestone. Ward and Hall of Famer Jerry Rice are the only players with 1,000 receptions and more than one Super Bowl win. Ward was embraced by his teammates when he came to the sideline after his catch, but it was one of the few things worth celebrating on a sloppy day for the Steelers, who dominated the stat sheet but couldn’t put the Browns away.

“It’s the happiest negative-yard catch I’ve ever had,” Ward said. “I always try to put team ahead of personal goals. But 1,000 catches and over 12,000 yards is not bad considering I was a third-round pick.”

Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison was well-behaved.

The hard-hitting Harrison, who was suspended for one game for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on Dec. 8, had little impact on the game. He was credited with three tackles, but none of them will need to be reviewed by commissioner Roger Goodell.

“We played sub-par today, but got a win,” Harrison said. “We need to step up next week and get better _ a lot better.”

Without Mendenhall, the Steelers‘ game plan was out the window.

And with Roethlisberger slowed by his tender ankle, Pittsburgh had to make due and did enough to improve to 23-4 against Cleveland since 1999.

With the score tied 6-6 in the third, Polamalu’s interception of Wallace at Cleveland’s 43 set up the Steelers‘ go-ahead score.

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