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Monday Night Football: Ben Roethlisberger leads Steelers to emotional win in potentially his last game in Pittsburgh

<i>Joe Sargent/Getty Images</i><br/>Roethlisberger talks with Mayfield after the game.
Getty Images
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Roethlisberger talks with Mayfield after the game.

By Jack Bantock, CNN

If this was to be goodbye then Ben Roethlisberger gave Heinz Field the perfect sendoff, keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers’ postseason dreams alive with a 26-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Monday.

The 39-year-old quarterback said on Friday that “all signs were pointing” to the Browns game being his last regular season outing in Pittsburgh. While a playoff berth still hangs in the balance ahead of a final showdown with the Baltimore Ravens (8-8) on January 9, Monday’s win means he will now have the chance to extend his potential farewell season should results go the Steelers’ (8-7-1) way.

Roethlisberger went 24 for 46 for 123 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception, throwing the game’s opening points in the second quarter with a five-yard TD pass to wide receiver Diontae Johnson.

It was far from the finest performance of his 18-year Pittsburgh career, but regardless, to win was a fitting potential end for Roethlisberger.

“It’s funny because, probably not the way you wanted it, other than the win,” Roethlisberger told ESPN on the field after the game. “That’s all that really matters.

“That’s kind of been the story of my career — it’s not always pretty, but we find a way. These are the best fans in sports and this is the best place to play.”

Mayfield mauled

Two field goals from Steelers kicker Chris Boswell gave the hosts a commanding lead before Baker Mayfield’s three-yard touchdown pass to David Njoku at the end of the third quarter restored hope for the Browns — who arrived in Pittsburgh hoping to end the year with a positive record having already been eliminated from playoff contention with a 7-8 record.

Despite throwing for another touchdown in the fourth quarter, Mayfield — and the Brown’s aspirations of a positive record — took a bruising battering.

Mayfield was intercepted twice and sacked nine times — Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt ending with four to put him within one of the NFL’s all-time single season sack record, set by Michael Strahan with 21 in 2001.

The quarterback is now doubtful for the Browns’ final game against the in-form Cincinnati Bengals (10-6), revealing after the game that he intends to undergo surgery on a long-term shoulder injury soon.

“There was an opportunity to win, and I’m an extremely competitive guy,” Mayfield told reporters.

“Now, it’s time for me to look at what’s in the best interest of me and my health. I haven’t been healthy and I tried to fight for my guys.

“Right now, I’m pretty damned beat up to be honest with you. I gave it everything I had tonight.”

‘I wish I could bottle it and have it forever’

Fortunately for Mayfield, the night’s headlines will ultimately belong to Roethlisberger, who — following Najee Harris’ 37-yard run to effectively seal the game — was afforded the chance to line up in victory formation and take a knee after Tre Norwood intercepted Mayfield to regain possession in the closing seconds.

“I didn’t think I was going back out,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the game.

“Anybody in football will tell you, when you are on offense, that is the best play in football, the best play on offense. To go out there and take a knee made it more emotional and more real.”

Roethlisberger embarked on a victory lap to take in the adulation of a near 70,000-strong Heinz Field crowd, before reiterating his belief that Steelers fans were “the best in all of sports.”

“I’ll stick to that ’til the day I die,” he told reporters.

“To see all the signs and jerseys and towels and to hear them cheer for me coming out of the tunnel, all that stuff, I don’t know that I’ll ever put it into words.

“I wish I could bottle it and have it forever. But I will in here [points to heart] and in my mind.”

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