CLEVELAND: If it’s up to Seneca Wallace, he’ll get more than three games.
The veteran backup quarterback would like to enter next season, his third with the Browns, with a legitimate chance to win a starting job in Cleveland.
Whether it’s by battling in training camp with this year’s starter Colt McCoy or another quarterback the Browns bring in via the draft or free agency, Wallace believes he deserves more than the last three games of the season he started this year in place of McCoy.
“At this point, going into next year will be my 10th year, there’s always been people who doubt me, who say you can’t play (in the NFL), you can’t play quarterback, you’re too short,” Wallace said. “You guys saw the last three games. All I want is a legit opportunity. That’s all you can ask for, a fair opportunity.”
Wallace made some things happen Sunday with his feet, scrambling out of the pocket for two gains of over 20 yards and a total of three runs for 44 yards. On his 27-yard scramble in the second quarter, he nearly scored before being taken down by cornerback Ike Taylor at the 4-yard line.
“I tried, I tried [to score],” he said. “I felt like I could have got in there. [Taylor] must have tripped me up and our legs got tangled up. It’s been awhile since I ran like that. I saw the end zone, thought I had an opportunity, but I came up a little short.”
In the passing game, Wallace completed 16-of-41 throws for 177 yards and an interception against Pittsburgh. The interception came on a third-and-two play in the third quarter on a pass intended for tight end Evan Moore. Instead, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu came away with the ball.
“It was a contested play,” Wallace said. “Troy made a good play, I probably shouldn’t have thrown it. But he made a hell of a play and came up with an interception.”
Steelers receiver Hines Ward hauled in his 1,000th career catch early in the fourth quarter on a Ben Roethlisberger shovel pass that went for minus three yards. Still, the 14-year veteran kept the ball and was embraced by teammates as he came off the field to a Terrible Towel-waving reception by the many Steelers fans in attendance at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“It was the happiest negative yard catch I ever had,” Ward said. “I was nervous going into the game. I really wanted to get it done in the regular season.”
Ward was targeted seven times in the afternoon and caught five passes for 24 yards, including a long of nine.
“We’re talking about a small few,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of Ward’s accomplishment that put him in a group of only seven other NFL players. “Let’s face it, when we’re talking about anything with Hines Ward and professional football, he’s in the category of a small few.”
A sheer force
With a second-quarter sack of Roethlisberger for a loss of 13 yards, rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard finished the season with 8½ sacks, second to current Oakland Raider Kamerion Wimbley for the Browns rookie record of 11 sacks in the 2006 season.
“Everybody I talked to told me I better have double digits,” said Sheard, who also had six tackles and a quarterback hurry. “Ever since college, I’ve always wanted double digits. I never quite got there, I always fell short. That’s kind of a letdown on my goals, but it’s a new year. I wrote down my goals again. I plan to beat 8.5 next year.”
Sheard is not the only one with high expectations.
“As a rookie, [8½ sacks] is impressive,” said veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who led the Browns Sunday with 13 tackles. “There’s going to be a lot expected of him when he comes back [next season].”
Kicker Phil Dawson was clutch again Sunday, kicking three field goals. Dawson began the scoring with two kicks of 26 and 45 yards in the second quarter before capping the windy, rainy and sometimes snowy game with a booming 49-yarder in third quarter.
“I gave my heart and soul to this team this year and I feel pretty good about it,” Dawson said. “I really missed only one kick all year … today was a really tough day. The wind, the temperature, the wet and the field; it was a perfect storm.”
His final kick was the most difficult, and not just for its length.
“There is no grass right there [at the placement] and when you are trying to swing your leg up to your nose without any footing under you, you can very easily be Charlie Brown.”
Dawson had multiple opportunities to address his future in Cleveland. But the 13-year veteran politely declined to do so, saying it wasn’t the right time or place.
The Cribbs factor
Receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs caught a team-high seven of the Browns’ 16 receptions on the day for a game-high 91 yards. In addition to returning three punts for 22 yards and two kicks for 23 yards, Cribbs also notched three more special teams tackles to give him a team-high 14 special teams stops this season.
“Josh shows up in these types of games,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Josh is a very tough player. He loves to play the game and when the conditions get bad and things get a little gritty, that’s when Josh shows up. That’s what I appreciate about him.”
After the game, Cribbs talked about how close he believes the young team is to turning things around.
“We play hard, the fight in us is so strong,” he said. “Next year it will be better; I guarantee it will be better.”
The game was full of injuries, including three Browns: running back Peyton Hillis (knee), fullback Eddie Williams (ankle) and Usama Young (knee). The Steelers lost cornerback Cortez Allen (shoulder) and running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee).
Hillis, who has been plagued by injuries that cost him six games this season, ripped off his helmet as he headed for the sideline after a catch for a three-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
Although he came back onto the field late in the game, he was a non-factor the rest of the way, finishing with just 10 carries for 30 yards in what could be the free-agent-to-be’s last action in a Browns uniform.
McCoy (concussion), offensive linemen Tony Pashos (stomach illness) and Steve Vallos, wide receivers Jordan Norwood (concussion) and Rod Windsor, cornerback James Dockery and defensive lineman Kiante Tripp were inactive for the Browns. Wallace made his third consecutive start at quarterback in place of McCoy. Artis Hicks started at right tackle in place of Pashos.
For the Steelers, linebackers LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and Chris Carter (hamstring), running back Mewelde Moore (knee), offensive linemen Doug Legursky (shoulder) and Jamon Meredith, defensive end Al Woods and wide receiver Arnaz Battle were inactive. Jason Worilds started at outside linebacker in place of Woodley, who missed his second consecutive game and the sixth this season.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor University will declare for the 2012 draft before the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassman, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen … Browns punter Brad Maynard had just one touchback all season and it came Sunday.
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