You know why the Browns are the Browns? Because with eight minutes to go in the game and trailing 14-3, they forced the Steelers to re-punt twice after penalties, and on the third try, Cleveland returner Chansi Stuckey fumbled and Pittsburgh recovered. Four plays later, Mendenhall scored and that was that.
The Steelers would go on to win 28-10, and despite covering the 13.5-point spread, we can’t praise Colt McCoy’s performance enough. Yes, he threw two picks, and yes he was sacked four times, but we all figured he would crap his pants at some point during the first quarter, and would leave the field on a stretcher by halftime. Instead, he more than held his own, looked as poised as a rookie with no real offensive weapons can look, and completed numerous passes into tight coverage. So hats off to that guy. No idea what that means for the Browns quarterback situation but, frankly, that’s not my concern.
I do know that the Steelers, for the first time all season, finally have their franchise quarterback on the field, and he played about like we expected. Ben Roethlisberger looked a little nervous early, and missed on a few passes — including the first quarter red-zone interception — but all in all, he did what he’s always done: prolong plays, shed would-be tacklers, and do things that nobody else in the league can do. It was a refreshing change from the run-run-run-punt offensive game plan we had become accustomed to during the first month of the season.
Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect, but that’s the nice thing about returning from a long layoff and facing the Browns, a team starting a third-string rookie QB, and playing more than 30 minutes without their best player, Josh Cribbs. But like I’ve been saying since training camp, this time around Ben wouldn’t go through the typical readjustment period we have seen in the past since he’s not coming back from injury. And with games at the Dolphins, Saints and Bengals next up on the schedule that’s great news.
As for the rest of the team, well, they did what they’ve done through four games: the defense was stout, special teams was a pleasant surprise, and the offensive line and the running game were efficient. That said, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more cliches about how McCoy grew up before our eyes Sunday than the sacks, the interceptions or Big Ben’s three touchdowns. And you know what? With all the shit we (I) talked in the days leading up to this game, I’m fine with that. The dude played well.
As for who played well for the Steelers, a quick list:
* Big Ben. He threw a “WTF?!” red-zone pick early, and he missed high and wide on a few other looks, but otherwise, he was the same old Ben. Nearly impossible to bring down and always a big-play threat, Roethlisberger ended the day with three touchdowns, including one to some guy named Heath Miller, who apparently is a very good tight end.
* Rashard Mendenhall. He’s now a legit home-run threat who seldom takes a negative play. Mendenhall is the perfect complement for Big Ben easing himself back into the offense. I really can’t say enough about how well he’s played.
* Isaac Redman. I love this guy. Third down and you need a couple yards? Give it to Redman. Need somebody to run the ball with Mendenhall on the bench? Give it to Redman. Need a back to pick up a blitzing linebacker. Yep, Redman’s your guy.
* Hines Ward. We talk about how Hines looks like he’s lost a step, or can no longer get open, but I’ve been convinced for a while now that he’s basically a tight end at this point in his career. Whatever, his touchdown reception was one percent Ben getting him the ball and 99 percent Ward shedding tacklers on his way to the end zone. I don’t care if he runs a 6.0 40, he’s still Hines Freaking Ward.
* Juan Timmons. I mentioned him in the podcast as a player to watch but that was mostly because I always watch Timmons. He’s having a breakout year and Sunday was more of the same. Juan had an interception late in the fourth quarter and — just like every other game this season — he was always around the ball.
* O-line. I’m looking forward to JJ’s breakdown, but upon first viewing, this unit continues to play well (enough). In addition to the usual suspects — Max, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Legursky and Flozell — we also saw appearances by Jonathan Scott and Ramon Foster (not to mention Legursky at fullback for Rashard’s TD run). Oh, and while Ben took some hits (because he always takes some hits), he wasn’t sacked once.
* Manny Sanders. JJ was lobbying for him to see time and Sanders had two big catches. Another potential weapon for Big Ben going forward. I’m one of the people who didn’t understand the “Let’s trade Santonio for a bag of beans!” trade, but I’m happy to move on. Sanders and Brown help.
* Bonus: the Ravens lost in overtime to the Pats which, if nothing else, will spare us a week of “BALMER IZ THE BESTEST TEAM IN THE NFL” nonsense.