PITTSBURGH - As the Cleveland Browns finished the season with a 24-10 loss to the Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field, owner James Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were nowhere to be seen.
Apparently Browns coach Pat Shurmur hasn't seen either of the two for several weeks, which makes for an odd working relationship. That's a sure sign that Shurmur has coached his final game with the Browns.
"I have not spoken to Joe Banner or Jimmy Haslam in quite some time," Shurmur said. "I saw them before the game but not close enough to speak."
The Associated Press
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little (15) cannot make a catch as Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) defends in the fourth quarter of their game in Pittsburgh Sunday. The Steelers won 24-10.
Shurmur likely spoke to both men last night. If numerous reports are correct, Shurmur will be told that his services are no longer needed.
Shurmur desperately wanted to go out with a win and become the first coach since Marty Schottenheimer in 1988 to sweep the Steelers in the same season. Ironically, Schottenheimer was fired after that season due to an in-house struggle with owner Art Modell concerning the composition of the coaching staff.
Shurmur undoubtedly has read and heard all the conjecture about his job status. He's been in the business long enough to know what's happening.
"I'm looking forward to this team next year, if that's the case," Shurmur said. "If not, then what I'm going to do is help coach and help inspire a team to win games in some role. I have kids in college. I have mouths to feed, and this is my profession and this is what I choose to do."
The Browns, who finished with a 5-11 record, faced a tall order in trying to win in a difficult stadium with a third-string quarterback that had never taken a snap from center. Thad Lewis faced all those obstacles and might have pulled off the win if not for fumbles by rookie receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin.
Gordon's fumble late in the second quarter was recovered by Lawrence Timmons and returned to the Browns' 24. The turnover led to a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Leonard Pope that gave the Steelers a 10-3 lead.
Benjamin's fumble came after a 13-yard completion late in the fourth quarter. Trying to get extra yards after going to the ground, he was stripped of the ball by Cortex Allen. Allen recovered the fumble and returned it 27 yards to the Browns' 21.
Roethlisberger's 12-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress six plays later extended the Steelers' lead to 24-10.
Lewis was impressive when considering he had one week of preparation. He was 22-of-32 for 204 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.
"To be 22-of-32 for more than 200 yards the one bad play was the interception (by Troy Polamalu)," Shurmur said. "He showed what I thought and what I knew he had in him back in the days when he was with St. Louis. This is really the first time he had a chance to play."
Lewis injured his back late in the game when sacked by Timmons. He was replaced for one play by Josh Johnson, who fumbled on a sack by Timmons on a fourth-down play.
Lewis received medical treatment after the game and wasn't made available for interviews. Shurmur was livid on the field because of the hit Lewis took from Timmons.
"I thought it was a helmet to the quarterback, absolutely," Shurmur said. "Of course, I see things differently sometimes. It sure looked like one. That is what I was upset about."
The Steelers, who finished with an 8-8 record, received a good performance from Roethlisberger, who was 15-of-23 for 134 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Browns had an advantage in yards 320 to 212 but the Steelers won the turnover battle, 4-0.
"That was a big win for us," Roethlisberger said. "I said earlier this week that we wanted to come out and finish the year with a win and have a good feeling going into the offseason. That is what we did. I'm proud of the way the guys finished."
The Browns controlled time of possession in the first half but were able to manage only a 51-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. Dawson was wide right on a 39-yard attempt.
Lewis led the way on 12-play drive that moved the ball from the Browns' 6 to the Steelers' 25 in the first quarter. Polamalu then stepped in front of a pass intended for Benjamin and made the interception and return to the Pittsburgh 17. Other than that poor decision, Lewis made quick, decisive throws and was generally on target.
"The ball came out very quick," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "That's the way it was most of the week in practice. He's done a good job of getting his read on the defense, making his decision and going with it."
The Steelers scored first on a 41-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. Dawson's field goal tied the score in the second period. Pope's touchdown gave the Steelers a 10-3 halftime lead.
The Browns marched 80 yards on six plays after the second-half kick off to tie the score on a 7-yard pass from Lewis to Greg Little. Ray Ventrone, the personal protector for punter Reggie Hodges, ran 35 yards to the Steelers' 40 on a fake punt to keep the drive alive.
The Steelers answered with an 80-yard, 12-play drive to take a 17-10 lead on a 9-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown.
With the 12th losing record in the last 14 seasons in the books, the Browns now face an offseason off certain change. It starts with Shurmur, who gave an emotional speech to the players after the game. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson got the feeling it was a goodbye speech.
"Now is the time when you start to think about everything," Jackson said. "Every year at the end of the season there's a chance that a lot of the guys you've grown to know and play with every day won't be here. That's the nature of the business. He understands it. We understand it. We'll see what happens."