The Steelers may have fallen short of their goal of reaching the postseason, but their 6-2 push in the second half of the year has helped piece together the foundation of what should be a dangerous team in 2014.
Two of those building blocks on offense – wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell – are already under contract for the next handful of years, and they both added to their resumes in the season finale against the Browns.
For Brown's part, his nine receptions helped Ben Roethlisberger keep the chains moving throughout the afternoon. The first on the day was a 24-yarder on a glorified scramble drill that included nine yards after the catch and helped set up the first score of the game.
Brown later nabbed a quick pass five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and raced another 16 to help set up another scoring drive in the third quarter. Before that, though, he used his helmet to hang on to a slippery ball on a 3rd-and-5 pass that kept alive an earlier possession that saw Bell plow his way into the end zone.
Even though he gained 124 yards the week prior in Green Bay, it certainly felt as though the 90 yards Bell churned out on the ground yesterday were as well-earned and impressive as any. Two-thirds of his productivity came after contact, with the touchdown being the most impressive showing.
On 2nd-and-goal from the five, Bell juked out of the grasp of defensive lineman Billy Winn three yards into the backfield, cut up to the right, and would not be denied entry as he proceeded to bowl his way over a small handful of Cleveland personnel at the goal line for his eighth score.
A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING
In what has been an up and down year for one of the defense's best players, Lawrence Timmons certainly seemed to save some of his best work for the last game of the season. The first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era was all over the field at times, particularly in coverage.
Early in the second quarter with the Browns facing a 3rd-and-2 at their own 35, Timmons shadowed running back Edwin Baker out of the backfield on a check down pass and tackled him for no gain. He did the same – this time for a loss of a yard – later in the quarter just as the Browns were threatening to score.
Timmons then proceeded to check off as many boxes on the stat sheet as he could, sacking Jason Campbell for a loss of 12 yards in the fourth quarter, and later ending the Browns' final possession with his second interception of the season.
There was another box he checked off in the fourth quarter though, certainly one he'd like to have back. Just as the Steelers were looking to put the finishing touches on their first shutout of the year, Timmons lost track of running back Forest Whittaker for a split second.
That was all it took for the back to get a step on Timmons as he snuck out of the backfield, raced to the perimeter, and then beat the linebacker in a foot race to the end zone on a 35-yard run-and-catch on third down. By then it was too late for the Browns, but no doubt Timmons wouldn't mind a do-over on that one anyway.
It's far too early, on the eve of elimination, to begin pondering what the defense will look like on the first snap of the regular season next year, but it was hard not to notice rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones having perhaps the best game of his rookie campaign.
While he had a career-high nine tackles against the Browns, his impact on the game went beyond the statistics. He finally started to look like he was playing without thinking so much, and as a result, some of his natural abilities that got him drafted in the first round showed up in flashes.
On the second play of the game, Jones quickly diagnosed a wide receiver screen and broke on the play, tackling Josh Cooper just a split second after catching the pass and dropping him for a loss of two. He had the presence of mind while in coverage on third down to chase the fleeing Jason Campbell after the line broke down, and pressured him to throw the ball away to force a punt.
While his pass rushing repertoire has never quite blossomed in his rookie season, it would be unfair to say there haven't been strides made. Jones said himself that he understands he must get stronger next year, but his bull rush has come on since his first game.
In what is likely a concurrent development, he showed better yesterday in maintaining his spot on the pass rush, whereas previously he would be content to be worked up the arc and out of harm's way. He stayed put more often than not against the formidable Joe Thomas.
Though Jones notched a handful of pressures, it was his work in the running game and in coverage that won the day for him. He routinely chased down plays up the middle in clean-up duty, and even finished the day with a diving pass deflection in front of Josh Gordon.
His rookie season might be over, but there's a lot that Jones can take out of this final game to build off as he heads into next year.
The stars did their jobs on Sunday, and Matthew Marczi also breaks down the performances of Steelers linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones.
Matthew Marczi breaks down Steelers' 20-7 finale over Browns.
L.T. sacks QB (LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)