By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Cornerback Cortez Allen again provided the biggest impact on defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) with two forced fumbles, a recovery and return for 21 yards to set up 14 points in his team’s 24-10 win against the Cleveland Browns (5-11) Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Allen’s initial forced fumble set up a short scoring drive for the Steelers’ initial touchdown, and his late fourth-quarter play — a forced fumble against Browns wideout Travis Benjamin, a recovery and ensuing 21-yard return to the 27 — set up a six-play scoring drive. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fired 12 yards into the end zone, and Plaxico Burress caught it to seal the victory.
Allen forced three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception, against Cincinnati last week. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons had two sacks and a forced fumble, that ZIggy Hood recovered, to close out a late scoring threat by Cleveland.
No, the first half between the Steelers and Browns was not the snoozer it first appeared to be. It was worse. For a while, at least throughout a horrendous first quarter and several minutes into the second, it appeared that neither team would score. The Browns Pro Bowl place-kicker Phil Dawson even missed a 39-yard field goal into the closed end.
The Steelers continued their futility on third down, going 1-for-6 to open the game, but things picked up during the second series with several seldom-used players coming through. Roethlisberger connected with Plaxico Burris for 12 yards. Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for 11, and then Roethlisberger hooked up with Jerricho Cotchery for 13 on third-and-five for the only third-down conversion. The drive stalled, but Shaun Suisham kicked a 41-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead.
Dawson got redemption on the next series by booming a 51-yard field goal with 3:48 remaining before halftime, and the Browns got the ball back with two minutes left to possibly take the lead. However, Allen forced a fumble, and Lawrence Timmons recovered to set up the Steelers at the Browns’ 24.
An 11-yard run by Isaac Redman, who failed on a third-and-one earlier in the game and forced to Steelers to pass and fail on a second third-and-one later due to recent ineptness on third-and-short yardage, and pass-interference call in the end zone on Eric Hagg put the ball on the 1. With local high school and Pitt product John Malecki in as an extra blocker, Roethlisberger had time to hit seldom-used tight end Leonard Pope in the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-3 advantage at halftime.
Both teams scored a touchdown in the third quarter, as the Browns used a 35-yard run on a fake punt by local high school product Ray Ventrone and 35-yard pass-interference penalty by Josh Victorian to have a first-and-goal at the 5. On second down, Thad Lewis threw a touchdown toss to wideout Greg Little.
The Steelers countered with a spectacular 12-play, 80-yard drive in 6:24. Jonathan Dwyer ran for 12 yards, and a pass-interference call on third down moved the sticks near midfield. Dwyer had another 12-yard run, and Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders for 12 yards to the 19. Dwyer ran for three yards on third-and-two, just the second third-down conversion by the Steelers, and on third-and-goal Roethlisberger passed for nine yards to Antonio Brown for the touchdown and a 17-10 lead through three quarters.
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