PITTSBURGH — The Cleveland Browns, who had possession of the ball for all but 21 seconds of the final quarter, defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 19-13, Saturday to win their third straight American Football Conference Central title.
The loss eliminated the Steelers (8-7) from playoff contention, and the Browns head into the playoffs with a 10-5 record.
After Steeler rookie Cornell Gowdy returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown that pulled Pittsburgh within 19-13 with 7:33 left to play, Cleveland held the ball for 15 plays to run out the clock.
"Nothing worthwhile is ever easy," Brown Coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I told the squad afterward I was really pleased with the way we laid it on the line today.
"Offensively, at the end, I was just absolutely thrilled by the way we took the ball after the adversity of the previous possession, when they had returned the interception for the touchdown. We put hat on hat, man on man, ran the ball and kept the ball and that, in effect, sealed the victory."
It was a brawl-filled game, with scuffles breaking out continuously. The last, on which Steeler rookie Delton Hall was ejected, set up the final Cleveland touchdown, a two-yard run by Earnest Byner with 9:36 left to play.
The Browns were ready to settle for a field goal after Byner was stopped by the Steelers' Lupe Sanchez, a former UCLA star, at the Pittsburgh seven on third down. But the personal foul on Hall gave the Browns a first down at the four, and Byner scored two plays later.
Brown quarterback Bernie Kosar completed 21 of 36 passes for 241 yards and the Browns' only other touchdown, and Matt Bahr kicked field goals of 31 and 30 yards. Kosar's touchdown pass was a two-yarder to backup tight end Derek Tennell, another former Bruin.
Linebacker Eddie Johnson led a Cleveland defense that limited Pittsburgh to 221 total yards. Johnson, among other things, stopped a Steeler drive by intercepting a Mark Malone pass at the Cleveland five.
"It was a very physical game," Johnson said. "A championship game. We had to put in a hard effort to win it."
Another defensive star was end Al Baker, who blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by Gary Anderson.
The Steelers hurt themselves with 11 penalties for 90 yards.
"Penalties and some of our own mistakes that caused them were problems for us," Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll said. "But our football team played hard, gave it 100%, and that's all you can ask."
Noll and Schottenheimer both declined to talk about Hall's disqualification, saying they could not see the several scuffles that broke out at the same time.
As usual, Malone, who completed 11 of 18 passes with 2 interceptions for 126 yards, was booed by the home crowd, and numerous banners called for his replacement. Noll said that contributed to the Steelers' loss.
"When he comes out in pregame warmups and doesn't get any support, that's a problem," Noll said.
Cleveland tight end Ozzie Newsome caught 6 passes for 94 yards. He has caught a pass in 127 straight games and is tied with Harold Carmichael for the second-longest streak in National Football League history.
"Ozzie had an exceptional day," Kosar said. "He's a great leader and a heck of an asset to our football team."
The Browns will be home for a divisional playoff game Jan. 9 or 10, and will have the home field throughout the playoffs only if the Denver Broncos lose to the San Diego Chargers today.