PITTSBURGH (AP) — Forget the 0-4 start. Forget the remarkable finish, the one that kept the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoff picture until the final minutes of the regular season.
There's no such thing as partial credit in the NFL.
"We were an 8-8 team," safety Troy Polamalu said.
One that will spend January at home for a second straight year.
Le'Veon Bell ran for 90 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers drubbed the lifeless Browns 20-7 on Sunday, though Pittsburgh's bid to become the second team in NFL history to go winless in September and make the playoffs ended when San Diego edged Kansas City 27-24 in overtime.
"We are going to build on this," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I think we have put together a good foundation."
One that went 6-2 over the final eight weeks, recovering from a potentially franchise-altering 55-31 loss to New England on Nov. 3 to play perhaps the best football in the AFC by someone not named Denver over the second half.
Or, the exact opposite of what happened in Cleveland, which fired first-year coach Rob Chudzinski hours after the game.
The Browns (4-12) lost their final seven games and 10 of their last 11. Not exactly the step forward new owner Jimmy Haslam was looking for with a roster littered with five Pro Bowl players.
"We needed to see progress with this football team," the Browns said in a statement after firing Chudzinski. "We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year.
"Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there's an urgency for success. When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward."
Chudzinski's players did something after the game they failed to do during it: rally around their coach.
"It's just absurd to me that a report would be out like that, about a good coach like that," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "It's crazy, and that (ticked) me off when I heard that."
Cleveland didn't exactly play angry while letting the Steelers roll to victory for the 26th time in 31 meetings since the Browns were revived in 1999.
Roethlisberger passed for 179 yards and a touchdown against two interceptions as Pittsburgh won its third straight to avoid the franchise's first losing season since 2003.
"Guys just kept fighting," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward said. "Wasn't anything glorious or something beautiful, we just came out of nowhere."
Jason Campbell completed 23 of 41 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Josh Gordon caught seven passes for 82 yards to finish with an NFL-high 1,646 yards receiving, a first for the franchise. It proved little solace on a wet, miserable day at Heinz Field in which Cleveland looked very much like the same old Browns.