Monday, October 18, 2010

Be very afraid

Steelers 28, Browns 10

By Mike Batista

Ben Roethlisberger looked like a humbled figure when his name was announced before Sunday afternoon's game.

Wearing his Steelers baseball cap backwards, Roethlisberger trotted slowly onto the Heinz Field turf and raised his arms one at a time to acknowledge the fans, who greeted him with loud cheers.

At least in the eyes of Steelers fans, it seems that March night in Milledgeville is a distant memory.

Still, it wasn't a total love-in as Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension. There was a small group of protesters outside Heinz Field. Because of the way he has treated women, there are probably a lot of people out there who still might call him a pig.

I'm going to liken Roethlisberger to another creature that most human beings associate with filth.

The Roethlisberger I saw on Sunday looked like a fly.

And that's a good thing.

Only an elite quarterback like Roethlisberger can release the ball and complete a pass just before getting leveled by a pass rusher. It's sort of like when you see a fly on a table and get ready to squash it. Somehow, flies know how to take off just before your hand comes down, and you end up whacking your hand for no reason.

That's how Roethlisberger gave the Steelers the lead for good in Sunday's 28-10 win over the Browns.

With Browns linebacker Matt Roth closing in, Roethlisberger threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to give the Steelers a 7-3 lead with 10:40 left in the first half.

The score stayed that way for quite a while. One of the reasons the Browns were able to stay in the game was the punting of Reggie Hodges. He pinned the Steelers (4-1) inside their 10-yard line four times.

Going into Sunday's game, the Steelers really hadn't beaten the Browns convincingly in a game that mattered since the season opener of 2007, Mike Tomlin's head coaching debut.

Considering last season's pathetic display in Cleveland, I should have been happy with any type of win over the Browns (1-5). But just as I was resigning myself to another lackluster win over the Browns, Roethlisberger turned into The Fly again.

Hodges backed the Steelers to their own 4 with 5:12 left in the third quarter. This time it was Scott Fujita who acted as the giant fly swatter, decking Roethlisberger in the end zone just after he found Wallace for a 50-yard reception. Then came a 36-yard pass to Heath Miller, in which Miller looked more like a wide receiver than a tight end.

Three plays later, Hines Ward showed a nose for the end zone, breaking two tackles on an 8-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger and giving the Steelers a 14-3 lead.

Midway through the fourth quarter, special teams ace Keyaron Fox atoned for his costly penalty in the final minutes against the Ravens two weeks ago. Fox recovered a muffed fumble by Chansi Stuckey at the Browns 13, and Rashard Mendenhall eventually scored on a 2-yard run to give the Steelers a 21-3 lead with less than six minutes left in the game.

The Browns weren't done, however. Colt McCoy, making his NFL debut, moved the Browns 70 yards in six plays and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin Watson to narrow the Steelers' lead to 21-10 with 4:17 left.

This game wasn't put away until Ryan Mundy tipped a McCoy pass and Lawrence Timmons intercepted it with 1:52 left in the game.

Timmons returned it five yards to the Browns 18. Three plays later, Roethlisberger threw his third touchdown pass, 14 yards to Miller, to make it 28-10.

McCoy, picked in the third round of the draft, threw two interceptions (Ryan Clark had the other) and had a pedestrian 80.5 quarterback rating.

I was expecting Pretty Boy McCoy to consider a career driving a milk truck after Sunday's game. After all, this was a rookie facing the Steelers' dizzying defense. But he did complete 23 of 33 passes and played well enough to look like the Browns' answer at quarterback. The Steelers should not have let that happen.

Also watering down this Steelers' win a little bit is the fact that Joshua Cribbs didn't play two-thirds of the game. Running out of the wildcat, Cribbs knocked heads with James Harrison with 9:27 left in the second quarter. He did not return.

Cribbs always has been an albatross for the Steelers. He's returned three kickoffs for touchdowns against them, tied for most against one team in NFL history. As the point man in the wildcat, he kept the Browns in the game in Pittsburgh last season and shredded the Steelers in Cleveland. The Steelers' job became a lot easier when he went down Sunday.

But, hey, the Steelers must have done something right to beat the Browns by 18 points, more handily than anyone else has beaten them this season. One of those things was protecting Roethlisberger, who wasn't sacked. That's no small accomplishment considering Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in Cleveland last season.

Those eight sacks were among the 189 Roethlisberger has been subjected to over the past four seasons. He already was spared a quarter-season of that punishment with his suspension. Even if he's sacked four times in each of the Steelers' remaining 11 games, it will be the fewest times he's been sacked since 2005.

If Roethlisberger has any sequels of The Fly in him, he'll stay on his feet an awful lot.

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