Roethlisberger comes off bench to lead Steelers to easy victory
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger began the week in crutches. He ended it the same place he nearly always ends it when facing the Cleveland Browns: taking a knee and watching the clock tick down to another Pittsburgh Steelers victory.
Starting or off the bench. Healthy or on one foot. Roethlisberger against the Browns is hardly a fair fight.
Stepping in after Landry Jones went down with a left leg injury of his own, Roethlisberger passed for 379 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers swarmed Johnny Manziel and the struggling Browns in a 30-9 romp.
"Ben is Ben," Pittsburgh wide receiver Martavis Bryant said. "So once he got in the game, he does what No. 7 do."
Roethlisberger hasn't lost to the Browns at home during his career, even if this one started more unorthodox than most. Roethlisberger sprained his left foot late in last week's 38-35 win over Oakland and barely practiced. Still, head coach Mike Tomlin saw enough to make Roethlisberger active behind Jones, who looked solid in relief of Roethlisberger last week.
Jones' second career start ended when his left ankle bent awkwardly as the pocket collapsed around him midway through the first quarter. Roethlisberger — wearing a specially padded cleat to protect his bum foot — entered to a roar of a capacity crowd that included many of his 2005 teammates on hand to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the franchise's fifth Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger was still in his NFL infancy back then. Now he's among the best in the game and he takes particular delight in tormenting the Browns, who could have taken the Ohio native in the 2004 Draft and instead opted for tight end Kellen Winslow II.
If Roethlisberger's foot was bothering him, it hardly showed as he improved to 19-2 against Cleveland.
Even with the Browns doing a legitimately solid job of shutting down running back DeAngelo Williams and often double-covering Antonio Brown, the Steelers rolled. Brown caught 10 passes for 139 yards and two scores and Roethlisberger's passing total set an NFL record for the most by a player who didn't start, as Pittsburgh (6-4) won its second straight heading into its bye week.
"I feel like we're getting hot at the right time," linebacker Arthur Moats said. "Time to get healthy and make a run for it."
The Browns (2-8), meanwhile, are sprinting in the opposite direction. Manziel passed for a career-high 372 yards with a touchdown and an interception but was also sacked six times. Cleveland has lost five straight and is just 2-13 in its last 15 games under head coach Mike Pettine. Not exactly what owner Jimmy Haslam had in mind midway through Pettine's second season after a promising 7-9 start last fall. Pettine demurred when asked if he anticipates any changes with his team off next week.
"Where we are right now isn't good enough," Pettine said. "We're challenged as a staff to do a little soul searching, come up with some answers and make sure when we come out of this break, we're ready to go and ready to snap this streak."
One streak will remain intact for another year: Roethlisberger's perfect mark at home against the Browns. He hit Brown for a 4-yard touchdown with 3:27 left in the first half to give Pittsburgh a 14-3 lead and then lofted a rainbow to Bryant from 32 yards that pushed the lead to 18 at the break.
Manziel, save for a fumble on Cleveland's first play when the ball seemed to slip out of his hands, didn't play badly but received little help. He endured a nasty facemask from Moats, who twisted Manziel's head awkwardly while reaching out for the quarterback in the second quarter.
The 2012 Heisman winner didn't miss a play and later nearly scored a touchdown in the third quarter when he flashed the ability to ad-lib that served him so well during his collegiate career at Texas A&M, slipping out of the grasp of a Pittsburgh defender and snaking his way to the goal line. Officials initially ruled it a score, but the call was overturned on review.
"I was just trying to make a play for these guys," Manziel said. "They fight for me until the end, and I'm going to do the same thing for them."
Cleveland then managed to turn a first-and-goal from the 1 into a fourth-and-goal from the 7 that ended with Manziel being picked off by Pittsburgh's Mike Mitchell. Manziel lofted a pretty 7-yard touchdown to Gary Barnidge midway through the fourth quarter. Of course, the Browns being the Browns, Travis Coons missed the extra point.
Seven plays later Brown turned a short pass from Roethlisberger into a 56-yard touchdown, the All-Pro flipping into the end zone and sticking the landing that would have left world champion vaulter McKayla Maroney impressed.
NOTES: Brown has 27 receptions in his last two games, the third-highest total in NFL history. ... Browns CB Justin Gilbert was healthy but inactive. ... Cleveland hosts Baltimore on Nov. 30. ... The Steelers travel to Seattle on Nov. 29.