Well, this has certainly been an odd one. The Pittsburgh Steelers bring a 21-3 lead into the second half on the strength of two touchdown passes and 286 yards through the air from…Ben Roethlisberger, who dressed as the backup today for Landry Jones as he nurses a foot injury. But Jones had his ankle stepped on at the end of the second drive, leaving the future Hall of Famer as the only relatively healthy quarterback on the active roster.
It was slow going at first, bringing in a 6-3 score into the second quarter with two Chris Boswell field goals, but a foolish penalty on a third field goal attempt from Armonty Bryant gave the Steelers second life, and Roethisberger quickly hit Antonio Brown for a four-yard touchdown pass, followed by a two-point conversion reception.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Will Allen stripped the ball from Andrew Hawkins, Jarvis Jones recovering. The Steelers ultimately went for it on fourth and goal from the half-yard line with about 95 seconds remaining, Roethlisberger firing incomplete to Martavis Bryant.
After a quick three-and-out from the defense, however, the veteran ‘backup’ quickly registered a two-play 52-yard touchdown drive, with a 16-yarder to Brown followed by a 32-yard bomb to Bryant for the score.
The Browns begin the third quarter with the ball after deferring to open the game. Boswell’s kickoff was not returned. On first down, William Gay tripped up Travis Benjamin after securing a first. From the 30, Johnny Manziel was sacked after Joe Thomas pulled down Jarvis Jones, tripping over the pile. On second and 17, however, he beat the blitz and hit Brian Hartline for a 15-yard gain. Needing two yards, he got five to his tight end.
Duke Johnson was buried at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Stephon Tuitt broke through the line and brought Manziel down again, his fourth-and-a-half sack in his eighth game. On third and 18, Gary Barnidge picked up 12 yards over the middle. Jacoby Jones fair caught the ball at the 13.
Roethlisberger retook the field after Jones tried to warm up. His first throw of the half pulled Brown offline for an incompletion. On second down, DeAngelo Williams was buried on a draw as the Steelers have bafflingly struggled incredibly on the ground against a defense that had given up more yards on the ground than anybody. Off a free play on an offside, Roethlisberger tossed one deep to Brown, which drew a pass interference that netted 39 yards.
At midfield, play action gave way to another deep shot incomplete, but the Browns were flagged for yet another pass interference, this one for 38 yards. At the 13, a quick screen to Bryant picked up five yards. From the seven, Roethlisberger’s pass was tipped out of bounds out of the back of the end zone. On third down, Roethlisberger’s pass was tipped at the line this time and nearly intercepted in the end zone. Boswell’s third field goal extended the lead to 24-3.
From the 21, a quick pass to Hawkins up the right sideline netted a first down. Another completion to Hartline netted 10. At the 42, Crowell was held to five on the short pass. On second and five, Manziel found Hawkins between Gay and Lawrence Timmons across midfield. He scrambled for the first time of the game, picking up six yards, spinning away from Ryan Shazier. Now in field goal range, Manziel was flushed out of the pocket and forced to put the ball in the dirt. On third down, Johnson had a 10-yard catch-and-run to the 22.
Benjamin got eight breaking inside on Antwon Blake. On second and two, Cameron Heyward eventually dragged Manziel down after the second-year quarterback held on to the ball for entirely too long. On third and four, Hartline’s catch brought the Browns to the 12. Manziel somehow managed to elude a sack twice, including a pump fake, scrambling and very nearly scoring, Cam Thomas bringing him down just short of the goal line.
On first and goal from the half-yard line, Crowell scored untouched off the right side, but a hold on the rookie lineman negated the run, making it first and goal from the 11ish. Another flag for illegal formation pushed them back another five yards. Shazier came in on the blitz and nipped at Manziel’s heels, getting him on the ground after beating the running back in pass protection. On second and goal from the 25, Hawkins was stopped after six yards. Now third and goal from the 19, Timmons made Hawkins pay with a 12-yarder over the middle. From the seven, down 21, Mitchell intercepted the ball at the goal line in front of the Hawkins, returned to the nine-yard line. The Browns were flagged for a hold on the play, which was declined.
After a short gain by Williams on first down, Roethlisberger forced a ball that was nearly intercepted in Bryant’s direction. On third and six, Roethlisberger outdid himself, easily overthrowing Miller and right to the defender for the Steelers’ second giveaway.
The Browns took over at the 11. Crowell picked up five yards up the middle. On second and five, Allen was beaten to the back corner for the touchdown to Barnidge. In typical Browns fashion, of course, they missed the extra point, now trailing 24-9.
Jacoby Jones bobbled yet another return, bouncing in the ned zone and hitting the pylon for a fortuitous touchback. Williams picked up four yards on first down. On second and six, Roethlisberger stuffed one to Miller to set up third and two. Williams drove ahead for three yards to convert.
Williams slipped through the middle for a nine-yard gain on the next play. Roethlisberger looked deep to Bryant on second and one, but the receiver was blanketed. Williams picked up four yards to move the stick again. At the 44, Roethlisberger hit Brown in stride, taking it all the way for the 56-yard touchdown. Of course, Boswell missed the extra point.
From the 20, Benjamin got a yard or so on a short pass. Hartline was good for the first down and out of bounds. Manzier fired a pass down the field for Taylor Gabriel. Down to the Steelers, 37, Manziel hit Benjamin out of a clean pocket, stepping out of bounds near the 15.
On first down inside the red zone, Gay got a hand on the ball to break up the pass. On second down, Manziel put on too much on his pass to Barnidge in the end zone. After a delay of game, Manziel connected for nine yards. Allen hammered Gabriel right at the sticks, but somehow held on to the ball. Mike Tomlin challenged the spot after they gave him the first down. The ruling stood.
On first and goal, Manziel fired up a fade, Hartline failing to make the juggling reception. His second-down pass was dropped by Benjamin. On third down, Manziel threw to Benjamin in double coverage incomplete. Finally, on fourth and goal, Mitchell was in coverage at the left sideline pass off the tips of Barnidge’s hands for a turnover on downs.
From the five, Roethlisberger, handed off to Williams, who broke free for nine yards. After stepping through for the first, he bounced off initial contact for 11. He now has 45 yards on 15 carries.
From the 25, Williams was knocked back for a loss by rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton. On second and 13, Bryant made an excellent adjustment for a back shoulder connection for 28 yards. From midfield, Williams broke off another double-digit run for 12. Jordan Todman replaced him. His third carry of the season netted three yards to the two-minute warning.
From the 35, Todman worked forward for five yards to the 30. On third and two, Roethlisberger looked to Brown in the end zone, incomplete, but it drew another pass interference for 29 yards, first and goal at the one. With 1:16 to play, Tomlin elected to close out the game with a pair of kneel downs as the Browns chose to sit on their final timeout.