The Cleveland Browns threw six defensive backs and a linebacker into the breach today trying to stop Pittsburgh receiver Lynn Swann.
But the wide receiver caught a pass from Terry Bradshaw for a three-yard touchdown with 11 seconds remaining to snap the Browns' winning streak at five games, 16-13.
Swann's ninth reception was a career high, for an aggregate 138 yards, and came on a day when the Steeler offense coughed, lurched, sputtered, and nearly conked out, with Bradshaw intercepted four times.
The Steelers won by the margin of an intentional safety taken by the Browns (7-4) in the fourth quarter and a conversion attempt botched by the Browns in the second quarter, when rookie Paul McDonald of Southern California mishandled center Tom DeLeone's snap.
The victory let Coach Chuck Noll off the hook after some questionable strategy of his failed.
Behind, 13-7, in the final period, Bradshaw took the Steelers 62 yards to the Cleveland one-yard line. On third down, Bradshaw threw to wide receiver Jim Smith and the ball went through his hands. Bradshaw said afterward that he threw too hard.
On fourth down, with the Browns expecting Bradshaw to carry from four inches out, he tried another pass.
He looked for Swann but the receiver had fallen so Bradshaw passed to tight end Randy Grossman, who stumbled a bit but caught the ball for a two-yard loss.
The Browns took possession on downs on the three with 2:44 remaining.
Fullback Mike Pruitt of the Browns held without gain and the Steelers used their last timeout. Halfback Greg Pruitt ran for two yards and on the next play, third and eight, quarterback Brian Sipe called a pass instead of a run that would have used up seconds that were precious to the Steelers.
Sipe said Coach Sam Rutigliano favored running the ball but the quarterback argued for a safe screen pass to running back Calvin Hill. "But linebacker Jack Ham of the Steelers was in Hill's face and I threw the ball out of bounds," stopping the clock.
On fourth down, punter Johnny Evans took the snap and dropped down in his own end zone intentionally, giving the Steelers a safety and cutting the Cleveland lead to 13-9.
Evans' free kick, a punt, went 52 yards and Theo Bell of the Steelers returned it 18 yards to the Pittsburgh 46.
There was 1:44 to go when Bradshaw started the Steelers on a 54-yard drive for the winning touchdown.
Of the passes he called for on third and one and fourth and one, Noll said:
"I called all the bad plays; Terry called the good ones."
Bradshaw completed 19 of 35 passes for 263 yards to Smith in the second quarter and the three yarder to Swann at the end. Bradshaw was sacked three times, in addition to four interceptions.
Noll said his No. 1 quarterback still was recovering from a jammed thumb and a bruised right elbow, and additionally suffered a bruised nerve on his left knee near the finish when hit by defensive end Lyle Alzado, who had to be helped off the field.
"I had time to throw but I'm not passing as well as I can," said Bradshaw. "Still, we won when we had to but we didn't run worth a hoot. They were going to take me out of the game when the Browns called a timeout when Alzado got hurt.
"When Cleveland used the six defensive backs it bothered me a bit; I had to look harder for an open passing lane.
"I threw a little better, with more steam and authority than I did last week. I throw sidearm sometimes when I move to my right or left, to buy time. The big thing is, I never get down."
Sipe came into the game leading the AFC in passing, and against the worst passing defense in the league he hit on only 15 of 34 throws for 178 yards, with touchdown passes of four yards to Ozzie Newsome in the second quarter and 15 yards to wide receiver Dave Logan in the same period.