CLEVELAND — Ben Roethlisberger looked up in the fourth quarter and noticed Pittsburgh fans twirling their Terrible Towels with delight.
The Steelers needed help, and they got it.
They're still in the hunt for another Super Bowl title.
Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns, Pittsburgh's defense dominated and the Steelers slipped into the AFC playoffs with a 28-12 win Sunday over the Browns, who fired coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer (see notebook, 4C).
Needing a win and a Buffalo victory over the Jets to make the postseason, the Steelers got both.
Leading comfortably in the closing minutes, Roethlisberger — a native Ohioan who improved to 19-2 in his career against Cleveland — heard the visiting fans in the crowd roar.
"I assumed there was a fight or a Steelers fan was beating up a Browns fan," he said with a laugh. "When I saw the towels getting out I kind of assumed what was going on. A lot of thanks to Coach (Rex) Ryan and the rest of the Bills and everybody in Buffalo. I know they're excited about 8-8 and we're excited they got us in."
Pittsburgh's bumpy season — the Steelers overcame suspensions, injuries and a shocking loss last week in Baltimore — will continue with at least one more game. As usual, Roethlisberger did his part, throwing for 349 yards, including 187 to sensational receiver Antonio Brown, who had 13 catches and a score.
"It's been a tough, 16-week fight for us, but we're where we want to be," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're where we need to be."
The Browns ended another losing season in disarray and clinched the No. 2 overall draft pick. Owner Jimmy Haslam, who vowed in August that he wouldn't "blow things up" did just that.
The Steelers sacked the Browns' Austin Davis, starting in place of Johnny Manziel, seven times.
With Cleveland down just 17-12 in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh's defense came up with the game's biggest play as linebacker Lawrence Timmons dropped Davis, who fumbled inside the 10-yard line. Linebacker Arthur Moats recovered, and on the next play, Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard touchdown to Markus Wheaton.
All that was left was for the Bills to help out.
And when Buffalo completed its win over the Jets, the Steelers were back in the postseason. They hugged and high-fived on the sideline and thousands of Pittsburgh fans celebrated.
"It's so gratifying," said Brown, who finished with 136 catches for 1,834 yards. "Sitting here as a Pittsburgh Steeler, that's the expectation to make the playoffs and hoist the Lombardi Trophy."