Final recap: Steelers 28, Browns 10 (click here for the box score)
The Browns kept themselves in the game for the most part, but they could never seize the momentum Sunday at Heinz Field. The result was an AFC North loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Rookie Colt McCoy became the Browns' 16th starting quarterback since 1999, and he had a solid NFL regular-season debut. McCoy completed 23-of-33 passes for 281 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass that helped the Browns (1-5) trim their deficit to 21-10 with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter. McCoy, however, threw two interceptions, and the Browns made too many mistakes to keep up with the Steelers, who were coming off a bye. Pittsburgh (4-1) simply refused to allow Cleveland to spoil the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who made his season debut after serving a four-game suspension from the league. Roethlisberger completed 16-of-27 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. The Browns lost wide receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi to head injuries. Both players were hurt when they took devastating hits from Steelers linebacker James Harrison, an Akron native and former Kent State University standout. Harrison's hit on Cribbs was a helmet-to-helmet collision. He appeared to use a forearm smash to level Massaquoi. A few weeks ago, Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward created a stir when he nailed Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Jordan Shipley with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Ward was penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver and later fined $15,000. As for Harrison, he was not penalized for either big hit he made Sunday. After the game in the bowels of Heinz Field, Ward said, "I saw one of (the hits, the one on) Mohamed. He was completely defenseless. I think (Harrison) hit him before the ball may have even got there. He was a defenseless receiver, and it was helmet-to-helmet." When asked if he thought it was the right call to make no call, Ward said, "That's not right at all. Definitely if I got flagged and fined for what I did, then he should have got flagged two times. But refs, they make the calls. Not us." The Browns did not lose the game solely because Cribbs and Massaquoi were knocked out of the game, but it certainly did not help their cause. Without Cribbs, the Wildcat offense disappeared from the game plan. Also, Chansi Stuckey became the punt-return man, and he fumbled a punt that led to a crucial touchdown and a subsequent boost of momentum for the home team. There were positives, though. McCoy faced pressure all day and was sacked five times, but he handled the situation with poise. Rookie cornerback Joe Haden recorded his first career interception and showed some nifty moves while returning it 62 yards. On the other hand, the Browns lost the turnover battle 3-1, thanks to McCoy's picks and Stuckey's lost fumble. They also failed to record a sack. And their top two cornerbacks, Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown, continued to give up big plays in coverage.
End 1Q: Browns 3, Steelers 0 -- 1. Browns kicker Phil Dawson made a 39-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 3-0 lead with 1:51 left in the first quarter. With the field goal, Dawson broke Lou Groza's franchise record for the most career field goals made with 235. Instant impressions -- 1. Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy forced a deep throw into coverage, and he was picked off by safety Ryan Clark during the opening drive. The pass was intended for tight end Benjamin Watson, but there were at least three Steelers in the area. The pass appeared to be tipped. 2. Browns rookie cornerback Joe Haden made his first career interception, picking off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the red zone. Haden then showed some nice moves en route to a 62-yard return. He should be playing more, considering how the Browns' other corners have been getting burned this season. 3. McCoy has been under attack since the opening drive. He was sacked twice in the first quarter. Give him credit for avoiding pressure on third-and-17 from Pittsburgh's 30-yard line. He ran for 9 yards. That gain move Dawson closer for his record-breaking field goal.
End 2Q: Steelers 7, Browns 3 -- 1. Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Mike Wallace with a 29-yard touchdown pass, and Jeff Reed's extra-point kick gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead with 10:40 left in the second quarter. Instant impressions -- 1. Guess who was beaten in coverage on Roethlisberger's first touchdown pass of the season? Browns cornerback Eric Wright looked as if he got turned around and didn't have a chance at preventing Wallace from making the catch in the end zone. 2. Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Cribbs didn't get up for a few minutes, but when he did, the crowd cheered. He walked off the field and into the locker room. Shortly after his left the field, Cribbs was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a head injury. That is not good news for the Browns, who desperately need to keep the Steelers off balance with a running game. The Wildcat was a big part of Cleveland's game plan this week. Without Cribbs, though, the Browns will probably abandon it. 3. The Steelers are killing the Browns with their rushing attack. Too often, the Browns aren't wrapping up, and running back Rashard Mendenhall is making them pay. As the game progresses, Mendenhall is going to start breaking off big runs if this continues. 4. Hillis' leg must being feeling better this week. So far, he's been much more reliable than he was in Week 5, when he was in and out of the lineup with a pulled quadriceps against the Atlanta Falcons. 5. Harrison is head hunting. With about two minutes left before halftime, he smashed Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi with another devastating strike. Massaquoi walked off the field. Early in the third quarter, it was announced that Massquoi has a head injury and won't return. 6. Browns nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin had a solid first half. He has eight tackles.
End 3Q: Steelers 14, Browns 3 -- 1. Roethlisberger completed an 8-yard touchdown pass over the middle to wide receiver Hines Ward, who spun away from Wright on his way toward the end zone. Reed made the PAT, and the Steelers took a 14-3 lead with 3:13 left in the third quarter. Instant impressions: 1. The Steelers did nothing to take control of this game on their opening drive of the second half. The Browns have had chances to capture the momentum. 2. Browns punter Reggie Hodges is performing like a machine. He pinned the Steelers inside their 10-yard line for the third time with 5:12 left in the third quarter. The ball keeps bouncing Hodges' way. 3. Browns linebacker Scott Fujita nailed Roethlisberger in the end zone, but the big hit didn't stop Roethlisberger from completing a 50-yard pass to a wide-open receiver, Wallace. Roethlisberger was shaken up, but he stayed in the game and threw a touchdown pass to Ward four plays later. 4. Hodges places another punt inside the 10 just before the end of the quarter. It has been an amazing day for him.
End of 4Q: Steelers 28, Browns 10 -- 1. Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall barreled ahead for a 2-yard touchdown with 5:50 left in the fourth quarter. Reed's successful PAT gave the Steelers a 21-3 lead. 2. McCoy threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter. Dawson's PAT was good, and the Browns trimmed their deficit to 21-10. 3. Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller with a 14-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good, giving the Steelers a 28-10 lead with 1:25 left. Instant impressions -- 1. Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass out of bounds instead of hitting Wallace wide open with about 8:30 left. It probably would have been a touchdown, but Roethlisberger missed his mark. He hasn't shown a ton of rust, but he did on that play. 2. The Steelers were called for consecutive penalties on punt attempts, and the penalties ended up helping them. On the third punt, Browns return man Chansi Stuckey muffed the punt, and the Steelers recovered at Cleveland's 13-yard line. Four plays later, Mendenhall scored. 3. McCoy ran the offense with tremendous poise en route to throwing his first NFL touchdown pass. 4. Cleveland linebackers Blake Costanzo and Marcus Benard did their best to recover the Browns' onside kick, but they couldn't pry the ball from the hands of Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds.
Top storylines: 1. Browns rookie Colt McCoy will make his NFL regular-season debut today. He'll be the 16th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999. 2. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will make his return after serving a four-game suspension from the NFL. 3. The Browns snapped their 12-game losing streak against the Steelers with a victory last December. Will they be able to pull off another upset? 4. Phil Dawson needs to make one field goal to pass Lou Groza as the Browns' all-time leader for successful attempts. 5. Browns running back Peyton Hillis played with a pulled quadriceps last week against the Falcons and was in and out of the lineup. His health will be something all Browns fans should keep an eye on because the running game will be crucial.
Inactive players: Browns -- QB Seneca Wallace, QB Jake Delhomme, WR Carlton Mitchell, OL Shawn Lauvao, OL John St. Clair, TE Alex Smith, DL Jayme Mitchell and DL Robaire Smith. Steelers -- CB Keenan Lewis, RB Jonathan Dwyer, CB Crezdon Butler, OT Tony Hills, OT Trai Essex, WR Antonio Brown, LB Thaddeus Gibson and Charlie Batch (listed as the team's third quarterback).
Lineup changes: Browns -- Colt McCoy will start at quarterback in place of Jake Delhomme/Seneca Wallace; Tony Pashos will start at offensive right tackle in place of John St. Clair; Brian Schaefering will start at defensive end in place of Robaire Smith. Steelers -- Doug Legursky will start in place of Trai Essex at right guard.