Steelers' playoff hopes still alive after beating Browns behind Duck Hodges

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers will keep fighting.

With a quarterback nicknamed for his talent calling waterfowl, the Steelers' playoff hopes are still alive after cornerback Joe Haden sealed a 20-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday with an interception against his former team with a minute to go.

Devlin "Duck" Hodges got the full treatment in his first start at Heinz Field, running on the field to a loud applause as the last offensive starter introduced. Even with the energy Hodges brought, dog barking from the Cleveland fans largely drowned out any duck calls -- which were officially banned at Heinz Field -- in the crowd.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin set a fairly low bar for Hodges in the week before the game, simply requiring Hodges to "not kill us."

He nearly did that as he and wide receiver Diontae Johnson had a miscommunication midway through the fourth quarter resulting in an easy pick for the Browns' Terrance Mitchell. But the defense picked Hodges up, forcing the Browns to pooch punt after Javon Hargrave collected the fifth sack of Baker Mayfield on third down.

Not only did Hodges fulfill Tomlin's ask, he turned in an invigorating performance in front of more than 62,000 fans. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards along with a touchdown and an interception.

It took him a while to get going, with the Steelers gaining only 9 yards in their first two drives. But the next one went for 67 yards and a field goal. The one after that ended in the end zone as Hodges again found favorite target James Washington for a 30-yard touchdown, which Washington caught despite defensive pass interference. On that drive, the Steelers passed five consecutive times, including a 28-yard completion to Tevin Jones over the middle.

The Steelers outgained the Browns 324-279.

The cast of offensive skill players on the field Sunday was a far cry from the group that started the season. Not only were the Steelers playing without quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, out since a Week 2 elbow injury, and Mason Rudolph, benched earlier this week, they were also down running back James Conner (shoulder) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee). But thanks to a stout defense backing up the motley crew offense, the Steelers avoided a sweep by the Browns and kept hope alive for a postseason berth with a month left in the regular season.

Promising trend: With Ryan Switzer on injured reserve, the Steelers were in the market for a new return man. They found one in running back Kerrith Whyte, signed off the Bears' practice squad a little more than two weeks ago. Whyte had the longest kick return of the Steelers' season with a 34-yard return to open Pittsburgh's first drive. He averaged 24 yards per return.

Buy on a breakout performance: Washington had his first 100-yard game of his NFL career thanks to a palpable connection with Hodges. He had a 30-yard catch in traffic for the Steelers' first touchdown late in the second quarter. He became the first Steeler to have three catches on 30-yard throws since Martavis Bryant did so in 2015 in a game that was also against the Browns, per ESPN Stats and Information. Washington has thrived with Hodges at quarterback. He came close to a 100-yard game against the Bengals a week ago, finishing with 98 yards, including the 79-yard score on a pass from Hodges.

Pivotal play: Bud Dupree strip-sacked Baker Mayfield on second-and-20, and defensive end Cam Heyward recovered the loose ball. The first time these two teams played, the Steelers didn't have a single turnover -- the first time that's happened since Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team prior to Week 3. The Steelers turned it into a six-minute field goal drive to take a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Dupree had one and a half of five sacks of Mayfield, giving the Steelers 35 sacks at Heinz Field this season.