Ben Roethlisberger revelled in the cheers he feared he might not hear and the Pittsburgh Steelers displayed the big-play ability they have missed all season in an easy 28-10 victory over Cleveland on Sunday.
Roethlisberger, returning from his four-game suspension, was cheered loudly during his first game in nine months. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
It was his first game since he was accused of, but not charged with, sexually assaulting a college student in March. Many Steelers fans had expressed outrage at his actions, but except for 20 sign-carrying protesters outside the stadium, that anger was not evident. Roethlisberger received numerous loud ovations from the crowd of 65,168.
“I started thinking about it on the way here,” said Roethlisberger, who once worried that his reception would be chilly. “Before the game I got emotional. To hear the cheers was something special. I got a little emotional.”
With the Steelers leading 7-3 but backed up to their four-yard line late in the third quarter, Roethlisberger completed passes of 50 yards to Mike Wallace and 36 yards to Heath Miller on successive plays. Three plays later, Hines Ward fought through two potential tacklers on an eight-yard touchdown catch to make it 14-3.
Roethlisberger also threw scoring passes of 29 yards to Wallace and 14 yards to Miller.
“We had our hands full with those guys. They’re really fast, they’re really good,” said Colt McCoy, the Cleveland quarterback who was making his first NFL start. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards, but was sacked five times.
“He had a lot of poise for his first game, playing against one of the toughest defences in the league,” Eric Mangini, the Browns coach, said.
McCoy was playing with a depleted cast after James Harrison, the Steelers linebacker, sidelined wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi with head injuries during the second quarter. Cribbs left after a helmet-to-helmet collision which caused him to crumple on to the turf for several minutes.
Massaquoi was shaken up after Harrison’s hit caused him to drop a pass.
“You don’t want to injure people. I don’t want to injure anybody,” Harrison said. “But I’m not opposed to hurting anybody.”
Apparently, his teammates aren’t, either. “He’s a beast,” Ward said of the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. “When you see him knocking guys out, you know he’s a man on a mission. You don’t want to see guys get hurt, but he set the tempo for us.”
The Browns were forced to play the second half with only two healthy wide receivers, Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey.
The Steelers beat Cleveland for the 13th time in 14 games, and moved into first place in the AFC North as Baltimore lost to New England 23-20 in overtime.