Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed why he is the toughest quarterback in the league Thursday night as he returned from a high ankle sprain suffered in the second quarter to lead the team to a 14-3 win over the Cleveland Browns.
The gimped up Roethlisberger was 16 of 21 passing on the night for 280 yards with 2 touchdown passes to Jerricho Cotchery and Antonio Brown. He also had one interception in the game. He left the game with just under 6 minutes left in the first half after being sacked by Scott Paxson. On the play Roethlisberger had his ankle twisted severely during the tackle. Roethlisberger needed to be helped off the field and went immediately to the lockerroom for X-rays. Veteran Charlie Batch took over for the rest of the half and did not complete either of his two passes attempted and was sacked once.
The Steelers took a 7-3 lead into the half after fumbling twice in the redzone during the first half. Hines Ward was the first to cough the ball up after a quick pass to the left side. He fumbled at the Browns 15 yard-line and it was recovered by defensive back Sheldon Brown. The Steelers got the ball right back thanks to an interception by Troy Polamalu of a Colt McCoy pass intended for tight end Evan Moore. Two plays later the second redzone fumble occurred and this time it was tight end Heath Miller who was the guilty player after a short reception at the Browns 8 yard-line. Miller was hit after the catch by Browns defensive back Joe Haden and it was recovered by linebacker D\'Qwell Jackson.
Roethlisberger made it back for the second half after X-rays were negative, but his mobility was severely hampered as he had a very pronounced limp. The Steelers however were also without the services of center Maurkice Pouncey as he too suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half. Doug Legursky moved over from left guard and played center the rest of the game and Chris Kemoeatu took over at left guard. It was not a good night for Kemoeatu however as he was flagged twice for holding and once for illegal hands to the face.
The Steelers running game came alive in the second half and was powered by several hard runs by both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Mendenhall finished with 76 yards rushing on 18 carries, and as a team the Steelers rushed for 147 yards on the night. The redzone is where the running game was at its worst as the Steelers could not punch it in from the Browns 2 yard-line on 4 straight running plays to Mendenhall. The Steelers failure on 4th down turned the ball over on downs and kept the Browns in the game with just under 11 minutes left in the game.
The Browns drove the field two possessions later and ended up in the Steelers redzone following a roughing the passer on Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Harrison went helmet-to-helmet with McCoy and the hit forced McCoy temporarily from the game. When he did return, McCoy was flagged for intentional grounding on 2nd and goal from the Steelers 6 and the next pass on 3rd down was intercepted by William Gay in the endzone. Gay had a fantastic game in coverage on the night and added several big tackles.
Two plays after the interception, Roethlisberger hit Brown with a back shoulder throw to the short right and Brown did the rest as he broke free for a 79 yard touchdown. That put the game on ice for the Steelers who now move to 10-3 on the season and now get a good rest before traveling out west next Monday night to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
The Steelers defense also got several strong performances out of linebacker Jason Worilds, safety Ryan Clark and linebacker Lawrence Timmons as the three combined for 22 total tackles on the night. Worilds also notched his 2nd and 3rd sacks of the season in the game. Steve McLendon and Larry Foote split the other sack of McCoy.
Roethlisberger and Pouncey reportedly will both get an MRI done on their injured ankles on Friday. Their status will likely not be updated until head coach Mike Tomlin talks to the media on Tuesday. Also injured in the game was Ziggy Hood and Polamalu. Hood left in the first half with a groin injury, while Polamalu tweaked a hamstring late in the game.