It seems the only way the Browns can beat the Pittsburgh Steelers is to break Ben Roethlisberger’s arm. No, make that both arms. And throw in a fractured leg.
Even then, the tough-as-nails quarterback probably would find a way to get back on the field and beat the Browns. Again.
The young man from Findlay, Ohio, is indestructible. His pain threshold is clearly off the charts. That became abundantly clear after his performance against the Browns Thursday night.
Just when it appeared the Browns knocked the big guy out of the game midway through the second quarter with what was later diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, he grabs a helmet at the beginning of the second half and leads the Steelers to a 14-3 victory.
Most players miss several games with high ankle sprains. Not Roethlisberger. He’s clearly a different dude. He plays the game with the mentality of a linebacker.
After Cleveland defensive linemen Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxson made a Big Ben sandwich out of Roethlisberger with a second-quarter sack, there was only one person who thought he would return.
The quarterback required help just to get off the field after his left knee and ankle were caved in. The way he left, not even the most ardent Roethlisberger fan dreamed he would return.
After watching him hobble badly to the dressing room, then mount the meat wagon to be driven to the X-ray room, Browns fans silently began to believe that maybe, just maybe, the Browns could pull an upset, especially with Charlie Batch at quarterback.
Many Browns fans take delight in ridiculing Roethlisberger, making fun of his off-the-field exploits in snarky fashion. On the field, however, he has all the right answers against Cleveland. Each right answer puts a bigger smile on his face.
Cleveland fans might not like him, but ask them if they would love to see him or someone like him quarterback the Browns and most, if they were truthful, would nod in the affirmative. There’s a grudging respect and admiration Roethlisberger deserves but probably will never get from Browns Nation.
He’s a winner. That cannot be argued. Since he arrived in Pittsburgh in 2004, the Steelers have won two Super Bowls and contended for the playoffs just about every season. He – along with a damn good defense – is an inspiration to the team. He makes Mike Tomlin’s job that much easier with his grit and determination.
And he has made Cleveland his personal toy. Since joining the Steelers, Roethlisberger has lost to the Browns just once. Colt McCoy, on the other hand, has faced AFC North teams eight times in his nearly two years in the National Football League and is looking for his first victory.
On this night, however, the Browns couldn’t have knocked off their archrival because the offense, with one notable exception, stammered and sputtered and coughed most of the evening. There was no way the Pittsburgh defense was going to let this one slip away, even with their starting quarterback seemingly incapacitated.
The Browns didn’t know it at the time, but their best chance to reach the end zone was on their opening drive when they unveiled an offense we had never seen before this season.
McCoy completed all four of his passes for 68 yards as the Browns marched smartly down to the Pittsburgh 5 as the Steelers’ defense looked dazed and confused. Passes of 33 yards to Evan Moore and 25 yards to Joshua Cribbs made it look easy.
And then McCoy appeared to score after being flushed out of the pocket on second and goal at the 2. But a replay showed his knee hit at the six-inch line. No problem, right? Wrong.
Rather than have McCoy sneak for the final half foot, Pat Shurmur called for Peyton Hillis to carry it in behind left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Jason Pinkston. That's perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas. Hillis was stuffed at the 1.
On two third-and-less-than-a-foot plays later in the game, McCoy converted both with sneaks. Easily. So why not on the opening drive? When you have trouble scoring touchdowns, you try anything.
Then Shurmur went conservative on fourth down and called on Phil Dawson for the chip-shot field goal. Why not go for it? What in the world do you have to lose? You’re 4-8 on the season for goodness sake. Give it a shot. If you don’t make it, the Steelers start with their backs touching the goal line.
The Steelers were in a similar position at the tail end of an 89-yard drive early in the fourth quarter and a 7-3 lead. Tomlin OK’d four straight Rashard Mendenhall dive plays from the 2 and all four failed with Chris Gocong and Mike Adams taking turns stuffing him.
The difference is Tomlin coaches aggressively. The Steelers play as their head coach coaches. Shurmur coaches passively, timidly. And the Browns play as their head coach coaches.
But it all became moot for the Browns when Roethlisberger stunned just about everyone at Heinz Field when he jogged onto the field at the beginning of the second half. Even though he did so with a pronounced limp, you just knew the Browns did not stand a chance. There was no way Big Ben was going to let the Browns steal this one.
The Cleveland defense, which played as well as it had all season, couldn’t overcome the ineptitude of the offense. McCoy didn’t help by throwing three interceptions, and the running game was a no-show. Again.
The Browns couldn’t take advantage of an Adams pick that set them up with a short field near midfield midway through the fourth quarter. McCoy drove the Browns down to the Pittsburgh 5, but the effort was ruined by an intentional grounding call and the Steelers’’ third pick of the evening in the end zone.
Two plays later, Big Ben the playmaker made one of those plays that has made him one of the NFL’s top clutch performers by linking up with Antonio Brown on a 79-yard scoring play.
Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden misplayed the back-shoulder throw and fell down, allowing Brown to run freely down the right sideline. He then zigzagged between safeties Usama Young and Adams to score to wrap up the Browns' their third straight loss and sixth setback in the last seven games.
If there’s any good news that came out of this one, it’s that the defense played well enough to win a lot of games even though it got beat by a quarterback who played on a leg and a half.
The offense, per usual, left an awful lot to be desired. And that’s going to be a problem the rest of the season as the Browns stumble aimlessly toward talking about 2012.