The Steelers became the first team in the AFC to win 10 games but the bad news is that the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots and the Houston Texans joined them Sunday, keeping the pressure on Pittsburgh to continue to win to have any chance of a home game during the playoffs.
The Steelers barely got past the lowly Cleveland Browns (4-9) 14-3 with their usual great defense and poor offense. They will face the team with the second best record in the NFC, the surprising San Francisco 49ers, 10-3 on Monday Night Football on ESPN.
Ben Roethlisberger went to the locker room for X-rays after a second-quarter sack but returned to start the second half. He played through a painful high ankle sprain in the second half to pass for 280 yards and two touchdowns, the last a 79-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown with 2:52 remaining.
It was the Steelers eighth win in their last nine games.
The Arizona Cardinals handed the San Francisco 49ers their third defeat 21-19 on Sunday, thanks to a strong defense and a spectacular show by Larry Fitzgerald. Backup quarterback John Skelton, filling in for the injured Kevin Kolb, threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns.
Former Pitt star Fitzgerald had seven catches for 149 yards, including a 46-yarder for a touchdown and a 53-yarder to set up the go-ahead score. He also had a vicious block that helped free Early Doucet on a 60-yard touchdown reception. He becomes the eighth player in NFL history to top 1,000 yards receiving in six of his first eight seasons.
Arizona (6-7) has won five of six after a six-game losing streak left them 1-6.
Arizona sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith five times. The 49ers were at the Cardinals 4-yard line twice and the 6 once in the second quarter and had to settle for short field goals.
Frank Gore rushed for 72 yards on 10 carries for the NFC West champions, who had clinched their division title the previous week. He passed 1,000 yards rushing for the fifth time in his career, but didn’t do much damage after that.
The 49ers are in the weakest division in the NFL in the NFC West, being the only team with a winning record and that’s shown when they play winning teams. Even though Smith has had a good season so far they rank 29th in the pass and seventh in the rush behind Gore, who has compiled 1064 yards this season. However, their strength goes against the Steelers strength which is stuffing the run. So if the 49ers are going to be successful against Pittsburgh they will have to throw the ball. Smith has a quarterback rating of 91.5 compared to Roethlisberger’s 95.6 but the biggest difference is that Roethlisberger has two outstanding receivers in speedsters Mike Wallace and Antonio Smith. Wallace has 62 catches for 1034 yards, 8 touchdowns and averages 16.7 yards per catch. Brown has 55 receptions for 925 yards, 2 touchdowns for an average of 16.8 yard per catch. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are the 49er’s top receivers, with 55 receptions for 668 yards and 49 receptions for 548 yards and their yards per catch are nowhere close to Wallace and Brown.
This should be an easy win for the Steelers if they can mount any kind of an offense, but so far this season the San Francisco defense has kept them in games allowing Smith to be able to do just enough to win against weak opponents.
The AFC playoff picture is becoming clearer with only 3 games left. Houston beat the Cincinnati Bengals 21-19 to clinch the AFC South and keep them in first place in the AFC having victories over the other AFC 10-3 teams. New England outlasted the Washington Redskins 34-27 to stay two games ahead of the New York Jets (8-5) who climbed back into the playoff race with a 31-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore stayed ahead of the Steelers with a 24-10 victory over the winless Indianapolis Colts. And the Steelers continued to be the top wild card with its 14-3 victory over the Browns.
The Bengals (7-6) still have an outside chance of making the playoffs, depending on what the Jets do for the remainder of the season.