By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger wanted to return to the game, just like he did many other times after he was helped off, but with a noticeable limp from a left ankle sprain it appeared that the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback took his last snap late in the second quarter.
Yet, there was Roethlisberger, limping back onto the field to open the second half and leading the Steelers to a 14-3 win against the Cleveland Browns Thursday night at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger was 16-for-21 for 280 yards with one touchdown pass each to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. He was sacked once, the play he was injured, and threw a pick. But he still had a quarterback rating at an amazing 129.6.
“We didn’t feel pressure, but we definitely wanted to do our best job to not let him be touched,” Steelers center Doug Legursky said.
“If he’s not able to be as mobile as he wants to be or has to be then we have to protect him that much more. I don’t believe they stopped us to that point when Ben got hurt.
“So, all we needed to do was execute. (But) Ben’s toughness is unparalleled. For him to come back and play the way that he did, I wouldn’t want any other quarterback behind us. (And) he stood in there to make the big play to put the game away for us. That’s what that guy does on a regular basis.”
Roethlisberger was sacked by former Steelers tackle Scott Paxson, who got him from the back side. The Steelers also lost left defensive end Ziggy Hood, who was replaced by Steve McLendon, and center Maurkice Pouncey, who was replaced by Legursky. Chris Kemoeatu took over at left guard when Legursky moved to center and committed a dubious hat trick for penalties — illegal hands to face, false start and holding — to cripple the offense each time.
Still, when Roethlisberger returned for the second half and the Steelers (10-3) nursing a 7-3 lead, there were many chances to put the game away. That finally occurred late in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger spied Antonio Brown in single coverage on the right side from the 21 on third-and-nine.
“I was a little surprised by the call, but we needed a spark,” Brown said. “We weren’t making the plays when we needed them, and that ended up being a big momentum swing for us. They played a lot of zone back there, but we caught them in single coverage that time. It was a great call and a great throw by Ben.
“Ben, he’s about the toughest guy I ever played with. For him to come back out there, you can’t say enough about his value to this team. He’s the type of guy that you want to play for and you want to go to bat four. You want a guy like Ben leading your team, and I’m glad he’s my quarterback.”
And Roethlisberger’s certainly excited to have Brown opposite Wallace at wideout. Brown caught five passes for 151 yards, and the bulk of that came when he caught a quick out, spun the defender to the ground and raced for a 79-yard touchdown. It put the game away for the Steelers, who had three turnovers and quite a few penalties to keep the game close.
— They also were stopped on four downs at the goal line early in the second quarter, but that didn’t come back to bite them.
“I’m going to have to look at the film to see what exactly happened, but we just didn’t execute well enough,” Legursky said. “And that’s unacceptable. For us to have four shots down there and not get it done, like I said, it’s unacceptable.”
The Steelers defense had a goal-line stand of their own to open the game, and they held the Browns to three points. That’s all they would get for the game.
“They drove down there on us right away, but to hold them to three points there and keep them out of the end zone the rest of the way was a great day for the defense,” Steelers linebacker James Farrior said.
“Anytime you can hold a team to just three points in this league, you should win the game and we didn’t want to let them cross the goal line.”
Farrior helped the Browns a bit with a 15-yard late hit on Colt McCoy out of bounds, but it looked like he barely grazed him. James Harrison also got 15 yards for a helmet to helmet hit when McCoy was scrambling, but Harrison drilled him as he released it.
“I didn’t see Harrison’s hit, so I really can’t say,” Farrior said. “My hit on him, it was just a love tap, and he did a great job acting. They had to call a penalty the way he flopped out of bounds, but I’ll tell him right now. Colt, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, and don’t fine me Roger Goodell. And don’t fine Harrison, either.”
There were guys with more tackles, like Jason Worilds, who subbed for LaMarr Woodley and tallied nine tackles with two sacks. That’s his best day as a pro. But McLendon should get some props as well. He had two stops with a half sack and a quarterback hurry. Not a bad day for a guy who doesn’t practice at end.
“The standard is the standard, and you can’t have a drop-off,” McLendon said. “So, I take pride in trying to learn both ends and the nose, because that will make me more valuable to this team. I really don’t get any practice snaps at end, but if you stay in your playbook and work hard you can get the job done.
“Coach Mitchell, he works me in at the end when he gets a chance to give me some looks, when he can during individuals. And that’s been working out for me. I don’t know what Ziggy’s status is this week, but I’ll be ready no matter what. We’ll probably know where we stand come Monday of next week.”
The Steelers have Friday-Sunday off and return to practice Monday for their Monday Night Football matchup Dec. 19 at San Francisco.