Jul 27, 2019; Latrobe, PA, USA;   Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner observes drills during training camp at Saint Vincent College. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers part ways with OC Randy Fichtner, 2 others

The Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways Thursday with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and two other assistant coaches.

Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and defensive backs coach Tom Bradley will not have their contracts renewed, the team announced four days after Pittsburgh’s 48-37 wild-card loss to the Cleveland Browns.

“I want to thank all three of the coaches for their commitment and dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “They have all played integral roles in our success and I am appreciative of their efforts.

“Personally, Randy and I have been in Pittsburgh since I hired him in 2007, but our relationship began well before that. He has been a friend of mine for years and wish his family nothing but the best, and I am eternally grateful for our relationship both on and off the field.”

Fichtner, 57, coached the wide receivers from 2007-09 and quarterbacks from 2010-17 before taking over as the offensive coordinator in 2018.

The Steelers started 11-0 before losing four of their last five regular-season games in 2020. The Pittsburgh offense ranked 12th in scoring, 15th in passing yards and 32nd (last) in rushing yards.

Sarrett, 41, joined the Pittsburgh staff in 2012 as an offensive assistant before being elevated to assistant offensive line coach in 2018 and to OL coach in 2019.

Bradley, 64, coached the defensive backs for the past three seasons following a long career in the college coaching ranks, mostly at Penn State.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers add WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) to injury report

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster did not practice Thursday due to a knee injury.

Defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs was also added to the injury report due to an illness.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Smith-Schuster’s injury is new or something he has been dealing with. The fourth-year wideout played in all 16 games this season and his absence would be huge in Sunday night’s home wild-card game against the Cleveland Browns.

He caught six passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in a 24-22 loss in Cleveland last Sunday.

Smith-Schuster, 24, had a team-high 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season.

Buggs, 24, tallied 11 tackles and one quarterback hit in 10 games (one start).

Thursday’s injury report was mostly good news, with kicker Chris Boswell (right groin), cornerback Steven Nelson (knee), safety Terrell Edmunds (shoulder), defensive end Tyson Alualu (ankle) and linebacker Vince Williams (quadriceps) all listed as full participants.

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns cornerback Robert Jackson (34) knocks Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) out of bounds during the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Browns edge Steelers, cliinch first playoff berth since 2002

Nick Chubb rushed for 108 yards and a touchdown, and the Cleveland Browns clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2002 with a 24-22 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

The Browns (11-5) snapped the NFL’s longest current playoff drought. They will be the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

Pittsburgh (12-4), which clinched the AFC North and a playoff spot in Week 16, will be the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The Steelers will host the Browns in a rematch next weekend in the wild-card round.

The win was just the second for the Browns in their last 12 meetings against their division rival, and only the eighth versus the Steelers since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999. The Browns won the regular-season finale for the first time since 2009.

Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 27 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for a season-high 44 yards. Chubb, who had 14 carries, notched a second-straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

Mason Rudolph completed 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for Pittsburgh. Chase Claypool had five receptions for 101 yards and a score, and Diontae Johnson added three catches for 96 yards.

Cleveland held a 10-9 lead midway through the third quarter before pulling away. Mayfield completed four straight passes, and scrambled for 28 yards, on a key 76-yard scoring drive, capping the march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper with 3:48 left in the third.

Rudolph, under pressure, was picked off by M.J. Stewart Jr. on the Steelers’ next possession. Four plays later, Landry scored on a 3-yard end-around to give the Browns a 24-9 lead.

Pittsburgh closed to within 24-16 on a 28-yard touchdown catch from Claypool, on fourth-and-10, with 10:07 left. The Steelers then came within a two-point conversion of tying it. Rudolph fit in a 2-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 1:23 to go to make it 24-22, but the ensuing conversion pass sailed over Claypool.

The Browns recovered the following onside kick and ran out the clock with three straight running plays.

Both teams played with rosters impacted by injury, COVID-19 absences and — for the Steelers – rest concerns. Pittsburgh was without nine players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (rest), outside linebacker T.J. Watt (rest), corner Joe Haden (reserve/COVID-19), tight end Eric Ebron (reserve/COVID-19) and kicker Chris Boswell (groin).

The Browns closed their facility three times during the week due to COVID-19 issues. They played without six regulars — including five rotational defensive players — and three assistant coaches.

Cleveland led 10-6 at the half thanks to a quick start. Chubb capped the Browns’ first possession with a 47-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first quarter. Cleveland led 10-0 after Cody Parkey hit a 23-yard field goal with 9:45 left in the half.

Pittsburgh got on track late in the half with field goals of 29 and 46 yards from kicker Matthew Wright. He added another 46-yard field goal in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Dec 14, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws the ball against Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee (90) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Browns treating visit by Steelers as ‘playoff game’

Technically, it’s not a must-win game for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season finale.

The Browns (10-5) can still slink into the playoffs with a loss, provided the right combination of other teams lose and/or win. But Cleveland isn’t viewing another showdown with the Steelers (12-3) in such a light.

“We’ve got to come ready to play like it’s a playoff game,” said Cleveland running back Kareem Hunt.

With a win, Cleveland is in. Pittsburgh already knows it will be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the postseason, which led to Mike Tomlin declaring this week that Ben Roethlisberger will get the week off. Backup Mason Rudolph will get his first start of the year.

The move adds more intrigue to the matchup. Last year, Cleveland broke a five-year non-winning streak against Pittsburgh in Cleveland with a 21-7 victory on Nov. 14, 2019. But in the closing moments, defensive end Myles Garret ripped off Rudolph’s helmet and swung it at the quarterback to spark an on-field brawl.

The incident led Garrett to be suspended for the final six games of last season. Garrett, who had 10 sacks through 10 games last season before the suspension, has 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 12 sacks this year.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski isn’t concerned about that subplot. Rudolph, who has just four passing attempts and 20 offensive snaps all season, had seven plays on the field during Pittsburgh’s 38-7 rout of the Browns in Week 6 this season.

“We talk about maintaining our composure in every single game, it’s nothing new this week,” Stefanski said. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re keeping the main thing (in mind) and focusing on our work.”

Tomlin said the Garrett/Rudolph issue is a non-starter for him.

“That is so far in our rearview mirror that we can’t see it,” he said.

Cleveland has more pressing issues to address. The team temporarily closed its facility again on Wednesday following more positive COVID-19 tests within the organization.

On Tuesday, the team put tight end Harrison Bryant and safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Last Sunday, in a 23-16 loss to the New York Jets, the Browns played without their top four wide receivers, who were forced to sit out of the game because of contact tracing. The Browns are hopeful the receiving corps, including leader Jarvis Landry (789 yards), will be able to return against the Steelers.

Stefanski said Wednesday that rookie offensive tackle Jedrick Wills would return this week from a non-COVID-related illness, but the Browns weren’t sure when he will practice. Starting right guard Wyatt Teller (ankle) was also expected to be available after missing the last two games.

“We have to do everything in our power to win this week,” Stefanski said.

Pittsburgh rallied from a 17-point deficit last week to beat the Indianapolis Colts and lock up a playoff spot. The win snapped a three-game losing skid.

Pittsburgh secures the No. 2 seed with a win and a loss or tie by the Bills (12-3) against the Dolphins (10-5), but without a bye within reach, Tomlin said his team might benefit more by resting key players. He hasn’t said who, beyond Roethlisberger, will sit or for how long, but vowed the Steelers will play to win.

If the Bills and Steelers finish with identical records, Buffalo would receive the higher seed since the Bills defeated the Steelers, 26-15, on Dec. 13.

“The standard is the standard,” Tomlin said. “Our job is to win football games.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) falls backward into the end-zone to score a one yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers rally past Colts in second half, clinch AFC North

Ben Roethlisberger led a second-half comeback Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers broke a three-game losing streak and clinched the AFC North title with a 28-24 win over the visiting Indianapolis Colts.

After the Steelers (12-3) trailed by 17 points in the third quarter, Roethlisberger’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Juju Smith-Shuster put the Steelers ahead for the first time and for the final score with 7:38 left in the fourth quarter.

The Colts (10-5) had won three straight.

Roethlisberger was 34 of 49 passing for 342 yards. Diontae Johnson and Eric Ebron also had scoring catches. James Conner ran for a touchdown.

Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers was 22 of 35 passing for 270 yards and a touchdown to Zach Pascal. Rookie Jonathan Taylor rushed for two touchdowns.

The first possession for each team was a microcosm of the first half.

Pittsburgh, after three straight incompletions, punted.

Indianapolis drove 70 yards in nine plays, with Taylor’s 6-yard run up the middle giving the Colts a 7-0 lead.

Pittsburgh failed to score in the first quarter for the sixth straight game.

In the second quarter, Rivers coughed up the ball when he was sacked by NFL sack leader T.J. Watt, and Mike Hilton recovered the ball at the Colts 3. That set up Conner’s 1-yard scoring run for a 7-7 tie.

Taylor bulled his way into the end zone from 1 yard to give Indianapolis a 14-7 lead, and Rivers shrugged off a blitz to hit Pascal in the end zone from 42 yards to push it to 21-7, the halftime score.

Rodrigo Blankenship’s 28-yard field goal pushed the Colts’ lead to 24-7 with 9:23 left in the third quarter.

The Steelers got to the Indianapolis 1 later in the third quarter, but Indianapolis held strong and got the ball back on downs when Pittsburgh opted against a field goal.

When the Colts stalled, the Steelers got favorable field position. On first down, Johnson made a leaping catch from Roethlisberger for a 39-yard touchdown to close it to 24-14.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw 5 yards to Ebron for a touchdown, slicing it to 24-21.

–Field Level Media