With all the hoopla and hype surrounding the return of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as a Steelers fan, when you come right down to it, this was an important division game. It had to be won, and even though the Steelers were playing the Cleveland Browns, you just never know with division games. Remember that the Steelers did lose to the Browns just last season in an excruciating 27-24 overtime loss.
Regardless, Ben's back and was able to play well enough to give the Steelers a win for his first game back. But for the Browns, sometimes it's hard to remember who their quarterback is. They've had 16 quarterbacks since 1999 and still were unable to find their savior.
But Colt McCoy actually played decently, considering he was facing the Steelers defense, and was able to complete the first touchdown pass of his young professional career -- it was a 12-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson with 4:09 left in the game. He seemed to become more confident as time went on, even after the Steelers defense seemed to not play with the same intensity as the game was pretty much won.
McCoy had 23 completions in 33 attempts, gaining 281 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. With the first, he threw into triple coverage, but the second was an unfortunate deflection. He was also sacked five times, but didn't let the constant pressure faze him too much. Can McCoy be the future for the flailing Cleveland Browns? Would be nice to get this rivalry back to its glory days, but I'll take the W for now.
Joshua Cribbs, the return man who always gives Steelers fans heart palpitations, was knocked out of the game in the middle of the second quarter after a helmet-to-helmet hit with linebacker James Harrison. Mohamed Massaquoi, wide receiver for the Browns, also got hurt after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Harrison. Both apparently have concussions, and Harrison should expect a fine for those hits. They're exactly the kind of tackles the NFL has been trying to discourage players from, and with Cribbs gone in particular, the Browns offense had to play more conservatively.
However, another shining aspect of this game for the Browns was their punting. Reggie Hodges was able to punt inside the Steelers' 10-yard line four times, with a couple of unlucky bounces (for the Steelers at least). It kept the game close and the Steelers had to begin drives near their own endzone. So ... congrats for that small, silver lining, Browns fans. I'm sure you need something to hold on to.
But of course the focus all was on Big Ben. Roethlisberger threw an interception on the first offensive drive, which led to a Cleveland field goal. But he more than made up for it with three touchdown passes to Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, and Heath Miller. Hines now has 81 career touchdowns: He's in second place on the team's all-time touchdown list. Go Hines!
Ben admittedly did seem a little rusty, but that's to be expected after not playing for so long. He'll keep getting better with every game. He completed 16 passes in 27 attempts for 257 yards, with one interception, three TDs, and a passer rating of 112.7.
The running game did help Ben with his first game back, though. Rashard Mendenhall had 27 carries and ran for 84 yards. He also ran for one 2-yard touchdown. Make that 6 straight home games Mendenhall has scored a touchdown. Isaac Redman, who seems to keep improving with every game, had 6 carries and ran for 31 yards.
Still, Ben had flashes of his old brilliant self. After Cleveland's first field goal, as he was hit by linebacker Matt Roth, Ben threw his first 29-yard TD to Wallace. The second one came thanks to Hines. In the third quarter, Ben completed an 8-yard pass to Ward. Ward then ran for four yards and was able to fight through two tackles to get the ball into the endzone.
This was a culmination of a 4-play, 96-yard drive. Roethlisberger threw big completions to Wallace and tight end Heath Miller Miller, both while getting hit and hurried. That's the kind of mobility and ability to keep drives alive that the offense has missed.
The final touchdown was representative of everything Steelers fans love about the team. Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepted a pass at Cleveland's 18 with 1:42 to go. After Browns coach Eric Mangini called a time-out with 1:35 left for whatever reason, so the Steelers responded with Roethlisberger throwing a 14-yard TD pass to Miller on third down.
This is the 13th time in 14 games the Steelers have won against the Browns. They're now #1 in the AFC North since Baltimore lost to New England in overtime. Amazing place to be after playing a couple games with their fourth-string quarterback, isn't it?
The Steelers face the Miami Dolphins next week away in Miami. They need to win and keep their #1 spot, since the Ravens play the Bills, which should be a W for the Ravens barring anything crazy happening. Then the Steelers face a tough schedule with the Saints, Bengals, and Patriots. Every win counts.
And before and after the game, there wasn't a boo to be heard for Ben Roethlisberger. At the end, while he was running into the tunnel, he threw a towel into the crowd. Has Ben finally turned a new, humble leaf and put his focus entirely on the game instead of, you know, extracurricular activities? For him, Steelers fans, and women everywhere, let's hope so.