PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ben Roethlisberger reveled in the cheers,
shaking off the rust to look like a two-time Super Bowl winner. For
the Browns, it was Steelers linebacker James Harrison who made the
game's biggest impact.
Roethlisberger, cheered loudly during his first game in 9½
months, returned from his four-game suspension to throw three
touchdown passes, and the Steelers shut down a Browns offense that
was depleted by Harrison hits during a 28-10 victory Sunday.
With the Steelers (4-1) leading 7-3 but backed up to their own 4
late into the third quarter, Roethlisberger - flashing the big-play
ability his team lacked without him - completed passes of 50 yards
to Mike Wallace and 36 yards to Heath Miller on successive plays.
Three plays later, Hines Ward fought through two potential
tacklers on an 8-yard touchdown catch that made it 14-3. The Browns
(1-5) never advanced inside the 20 until rookie Colt McCoy's late
12-yard scoring pass to Ben Watson with Pittsburgh already up by 18
Roethlisberger was intercepted on Pittsburgh's first drive, but
came back to throw a 29-yard scoring pass to Mike Wallace early in
the second quarter - the only touchdown for nearly 42 minutes.
Roethlisberger also had a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller
with 1:25 remaining after McCoy was intercepted for the second
There were numerous firsts - Roethlisberger's first game back,
McCoy's first career start - but a predictable result, the
Steelers' 13th win in their last 14 games against Cleveland.
Roethlisberger was 16 of 27 for 257 yards, about 120 yards more
passing than Pittsburgh averaged without him.
Roethlisberger played his first regular-season game since he was
accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a Georgia
college student in March. At the time, numerous Steelers fans
professed to be outraged with the quarterback's actions but, except
for about 20 sign-carrying protesters outside Heinz Field,
Roethlisberger was greeted enthusiastically.
He received the biggest cheers of any player during the pregame
introductions, and several small banners welcomed him back. His
responded to the pregame cheers by raising an index finger in a No.
McCoy didn't look overwhelmed, going 23 of 33 for 281 yards with
two interceptions but, with Peyton Hillis limited to 41 yards by
the NFL's best rushing defense, the Browns couldn't sustain drives.
It didn't help that Harrison put wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and
Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game with big hits in the second
The injuries forced Cleveland, already without injured
quarterbacks Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme, to play the final
two-plus quarters with only two healthy wide receivers, Brian
Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey. It was another oddity in a game in
which none of the four active quarterbacks - Roethlisberger and
Byron Leftwich, Colt McCoy and Brett Ratliff - had previously
thrown a single pass all season.
The Browns improvised by employing multiple tight end sets but,
without Cribbs to run the wildcat offense that was so effective
during a 13-6 upset of Pittsburgh in December, they couldn't
generate much offense against a Steelers defense that has allowed a
league-low 60 points in five games.
Cribbs, who ran for 83 yards in that upset last season, left
with a possible concussion after Harrison drove into him with a
helmet-to-helmet hit three plays after the Wallace touchdown catch.
It was Cleveland's first and last play out of the wildcat.
Massaquoi left with about 2 minutes left in the half after
Harrison slammed into him while breaking up a pass. Browns center
Alex Mack, angry at how Harrison kept sidelining his teammates,
reacted by angrily kicked the ball about 20 yards to the Browns'
sideline, drawing a delay-of-game penalty.
Cleveland's most effective play was a punt inside the Steelers'
10; Reggie Hodges did that four times, repeatedly backing the
Steelers up and keeping the game close - at least until
Roethlisberger got away from a predictably conservative game plan
to hit the two consecutive deep passes.
The Steelers made it 21-3 with 5:50 remaining after Keyaron Fox
recovered Stuckey's fumbled punt at the 13, setting up Rashard
Mendenhall's 2-yard scoring run. Mendenhall, used heavily early in
the game as Roethlisberger was gradually eased into the offense,
ran for 84 yards.