CLEVELAND (AP)—Ben Roethlisberger walked out of Browns Stadium with his head and perfect record intact.
Unfazed by Gerard Warren’s pregame threats or anything Cleveland’s defense threw at him, Roethlisberger became the first rookie quarterback to begin 7-0 since the 1970 merger as the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Browns 24-10 on Sunday.
“Ben doesn’t get rattled,” said wide receiver Hines Ward. “For him (Warren) to make comments like that wasn’t very smart. I guess maybe he’s jealous of Ben.”
He may not be the only one.
Jerome Bettis had two short touchdown runs for the Steelers (8-1), who won their seventh straight game and continued their best start since opening 1978, when they went 9-1.
They did it by taking smashmouth football to a new extreme. During pregame warmups, Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter punched Browns running back William Green, bloodying his lower lip during their fight. Both were ejected before the opening kickoff.
After handing New England and Philadelphia their first losses the past two weeks, Pittsburgh figured to be due for a letdown. That will have to wait until next week—maybe—as the Steelers remained the NFL’s hottest team.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. “We’re fighting and scratching for everything we can get every week. We’re not that much better than that team over there.”
Bettis, starting for the second straight week in place of the injured Duce Staley, gained 103 yards on 29 carries. He scored on TD runs from the 5 and 1 in the first half.
Bettis had a chance to score a third TD, but couldn’t get over the goal line despite three cracks from Cleveland’s 1 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s my job, what I’m here for is to be a relief pitcher,” said Bettis, now 5 yards behind Tony Dorsett for fifth on the league’s career rushing list. “This team is special. The guys behind the starters have to help. That happened today. James Harrison had a real good game.”
Harrison filled in for Porter, who exchanged spit and fists with Green during their pregame bout near the 50. Harrison had six tackles and one of Pittsburgh’s four sacks on Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia.
On another sack, Steelers safety Russell Stuvaints returned Garcia’s fumble 24 yards for a TD.
The 104th game in the NFL’s fiercest rivalry was particularly nasty— beforehand.
Earlier in the week, Warren promised to go after Roethlisberger’s head, saying: “Kill the head and the body is dead.” Warren was warned by the league on Friday to watch himself or risk a suspension.
Warren, who had one tackle, said he spoke with Roethlisberger before the game and explained his comments.
“They were private words not to be repeated,” Warren said.
Roethlisberger said Warren was respectful.
“We talked a little bit, we laughed,” Roethlisberger said. “He said, ‘Let’s play football, forget about what was said and enjoy today.’ That was OK with me.”
Roethlisberger wasn’t spectacular, just efficient. He finished 10-of-16 for 134 yards. He also had 41 yards rushing as he smartly avoided pressure by running from trouble the few times the Browns (3-6) were able to get him in any trouble.
Roethlisberger gained 13 yards on a key third-and-1 late in the third quarter. He got the Browns to bite on a fake handoff and ran around left end, picking up a nice block from wide receiver Plaxico Burress for the first down.
“I told you the kid was good,” said Warren.
Garcia was under siege almost every time he dropped back. He went 7-for-16 for 110 yards, was sacked four times and threw an interception.
Garcia was disappointed with the Browns’ latest defeat, their third straight. It was more of the same: too many turnovers, penalties and mistakes.
“You name it,” Garcia said, “we do it the wrong way.”
With the Browns dropping farther back in the AFC North, coach Butch Davis’ future in Cleveland appears in jeopardy. He was asked if he was worried about his job security.
“I’m more concerned about the 53 guys in that locker room getting respect,” he said.
Backed up at his 7, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 93 yards in 13 plays, with Bettis scoring on a 5-yard run to give Pittsburgh a 7-3 lead in the first period. His 20-yard run in the second quarter set up Bettis’ second TD, putting the Steelers up 14-3.
Browns K Phil Dawson made his 27th straight field goal, the league’s longest current streak. … Davis dropped to 24-33 since 2001 and 1-8 vs. Pittsburgh. … Bettis has 10 TDs—one shy of his career-high set in 1996.