Roethlisberger cheered in return as Steelers winBy ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer Monday, Oct 18, 2010
The throws were precise, the confidence was evident. Nothing suggested he sat at home the previous four game days, barred from the sport he plays better than all but a few other NFL quarterbacks.
This was the defense the Steelers expect, too: Intimidating and game-changing. A defense that’s often too much to handle for the most polished of quarterbacks, much less a rookie playing his first career game.
There were few surprises during the Steelers’ 28-10 victory Sunday over the injury-thinned Cleveland Browns, who didn’t get blown out or shut out with Colt McCoy(notes) at quarterback yet never looked to be on the edge of winning, either.
Especially not with Roethlisberger throwing for three touchdowns during his first game in 9 1/2 months, despite not opening up the offense until well into the second half.
“One thing about him—when you look into his eyes, you always know you have a chance to win ballgames,” said Hines Ward(notes), whose 8-yard TD catch ended a 96-yard drive that put Pittsburgh up 14-3 late in the third quarter. “And everybody just follows.”
That look was there with James Harrison(notes), whose never-smiling face and on-the-edge play personifies this Steelers defense much the way Jack Lambert’s personality did the Steel Curtain of the 1970s.
Harrison’s punishing hits sidelined wide receivers Joshua Cribbs(notes) and Mohamed Massaquoi(notes) with head injuries during the second quarter, throttling what little offense Cleveland had. The Browns didn’t say if either had a concussion.
After that, McCoy was forced to try to win the game nearly by himself, something that was too much to ask of a quarterback who hadn’t thrown an NFL pass until an hour or so before.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Harrison’s hits clean and not subject to fines, although the NFL often fines helmet-to-helmet hits like the one on Cribbs. He crumpled to the turf and stayed there for several minutes before walking back to the sideline.
“You don’t want to injure people. I don’t want to injure anybody,” Harrison said. “But I’m not opposed to hurting anybody.”
His teammates aren’t, either.
“He’s a beast,” Ward said. “When you see him knocking guys out, you know he’s a man on a mission. You don’t want to see guys get hurt, but he set the tempo for us.”
After that, it was Roethlisberger’s show. His first regular-season game since last season clearly excited Steelers fans, who filled Heinz Field beyond its capacity. It was a special game for the quarterback, too, as he realized while traveling to the stadium.
“Amazing,” Roethlisberger said of the loud ovation he received during pregame introductions. “I got a little bit of tears in my eyes. To hear a cheer like that was truly something special.”
Except for about 20 protesters outside the stadium, there was no sign of the anger and hostility numerous fans expressed after a Georgia college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a bar in March.
Roethlisberger has strongly denied the allegations but, despite not being charged, he did not fight the NFL’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
There were considerable doubts if the Steelers could get by with backup quarterbacks during Roethlisberger’s absence, yet they went 3-1 with Dennis Dixon(notes) and Charlie Batch(notes) starting and were within a minute of beating Baltimore (4-2).
Now, the Steelers (4-1) are back in first place in the AFC North as they begin a three-game road trip to Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati. Obviously, they’re more confident than they’ve been all season, now that their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is under center again.
They averaged a league-low 136 yards passing while Roethlisberger was out, but they easily topped that even while Roethlisberger looked a little rusty at times while going 16 of 27 for 257 yards and one interception. His two best throws were consecutive completions of 50 yards to Mike Wallace(notes) and 36 yards to Heath Miller(notes) that led to Ward’s TD catch.
Roethlisberger also threw a 29-yard scoring pass to Wallace that put Pittsburgh up 7-3 in the second quarter, and a 14-yarder to Miller that followed a fumbled punt in the closing minutes.
“We missed some throws, too,” Wallace said. “That’s going to make us work even harder.”
If Roethlisberger looked as if he hadn’t been away, McCoy certainly didn’t look like someone playing his first NFL Game. Ankle injuries to Seneca Wallace(notes) and Jake Delhomme(notes) forced him to start, and the former Texas star responded by going 23 of 33 for 281 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
McCoy probably couldn’t have played much better but, down to two healthy wide receivers in the second half, the Browns couldn’t do much offensively beyond the basics. Cribbs’ injury forced them to abandon the wildcat formation that so troubled the Steelers during Cleveland’s 13-6 upset victory in December, when Cribbs ran for 83 yards.
Still, if it took a loss like this for the Browns to possibly find the reliable quarterback they’ve sought for years, they’ll probably take it.
McCoy stayed poised, even while being sacked five times, and he showed numerous signs there’s a lot more to come. Coach Eric Mangini wasn’t ready to commit to starting him Sunday at New Orleans.