By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger’s return provided a mix of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly for the Pittsburgh Steelers during a 28-10 AFC North Division win against the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
“I don’t think it really hit me until I was pulling into the stadium,” Roethlisberger said. “I started to think a little bit more about it, and then getting on the field before the game it got emotional. But I felt like it was a pretty good day, but I felt like I left a lot of plays out there, missed some things here and there.
“(But) to hear (the crowd) cheer for me really was something special, (and) I got a little emotional. Training camp and preseason was great, but it was truly awesome to hear the fans. And to play out in front of them, I loved being back out in front of those guys again.”
Roethlisberger completed 16 of 27 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and no sacks. His quarterback rating was a solid 112.7, and he connected with seven different receivers. Roethlisberger’s impact was felt immediately. He launched a long bomb toward wideout Antwaan Randle El on the opening drive, and a pass-interference call put the ball at the 20.
The Steelers didn’t score there, but on their second possession, trailing 3-0, Roethlisberger connected with rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders for 22 yards on a third-and-13. Two plays later, Roethlisberger fired downfield for wideout Mike Wallace and connected for a 29-yard touchdown.
“I thought he played well, but not that I’m surprised by that,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was sharp in training camp and in the preseason. He was sharp when he came back, and I think it started way back in the summer. The guy came back in great condition, and he’s been working hard.
“So, when given an opportunity, we know that this guy is capable of playing the way he did today. (But) he hasn’t played in a month, so you can characterize it how ever you want to characterize it. He missed some throws. He’s not perfect, but none of us are. (But) he played a good football game.”
The opening drive in the second half ended prematurely due to a holding call on Ramon Foster, who was an injury replacement at offensive guard, but Roethlisberger hit wideout Hines Ward with consecutive passes for nine and 26 yards, respectively.
“Ben came into the huddle and took control, like he always does, and when you look into his eyes you always know we have a chance,” Ward said. “Mike’s touchdown, I don’t think he was the primary go-to guy. When you can do that, go through the check-downs like that, you’re going to complete some passes.
“And we set things up with the running game in the first half. B.A.’s going to call games for the best for our team, and that didn’t stop just because Ben came back. Sure, we might have some more options in the passing game, but we’re always going to try to run the ball and be as balanced as possible.”
With the third quarter past the midpoint, the Steelers opened things up. Roethlisberger bombed one to Wallace for 50 yards and tight end Heath Miller for 36 to the 8. On third down from there, Roethlisberger hit Ward with a short pass, and the wideout plowed into the end zone for the score.
“It was the coverage, so Ben just wanted to throw it up and let me make a play,” Wallace said. “He made a great throw, because he threw it inside instead of outside where the cornerback was at. Before the play, he told me it was going to come like that. He said he was going to put it up and let me make a play, and he put it in a perfect spot.
“I just think he probably was a little anxious more than anything on the high throws. He really wasn’t off-target, but he was just hyped and ready to go. And some of them just got away from him. But once he got into the flow of the game and slowed things down, he was just off the chain.”
During the opening drive in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger connected with Sanders for 15 yards on a third-and-eight and found Randle El open for an 11-yard reception. He hit Mendenhall in the flat for eight yards on third-and-seven to the 2 and hooked up with Miller with a 14-yard touchdown pass to close out the scoring.
Roethlisberger’s red-zone interception by rookie cornerback Joe Haden and returned 62 yards clearly was the ugliest play of the game for the Steelers. It was third-and-four from the 14, and Roethlisberger attempted to connect with running back Mewelde Moore, but his poor overthrow was picked off.
“Obviously, on the interception, I got a little antsy there,” Roethlisberger said. “Mewelde was open, and I needed just to settle down and get it to him. That being said, we won the game and did pretty well on offense. (On the high passes), I was giving it a little extra.
“The ball was coming out what we call hot, a little high and strong, so like I’ve said we left some things out there. But that was a really good Browns defense that we played, so I was proud of the way the guys played, especially the line and the way we ran the ball.”
There were several other bad throws by Roethlisberger, primarily overthrows. Roethlisberger missed a wide-open Ward in a late first-half possession that got to the 40 on a 25-yard run by Mendenhall.
During the Steelers’ opening drive in the second half, Roethlisberger missed Mendenhall on a screen and then overthrew Miller to force a punt. There was another overthrow early in the fourth quarter and two midway through the final quarter, including one to Wallace that would have been a huge gain.
But all those were far overshadowed by all the good plays.