CLEVELAND (AP)—The Pittsburgh Steelers were the worst possible kind of out-of-town guests: unruly, unkind and unrelenting.
Dominating from the moment they took the field, the Steelers overwhelmed the Cleveland Browns 41-0 on Sunday, improving their AFC playoff chances while embarrassing a team that is a rival in name only.
“We made a statement,” said linebacker James Harrison, who blocked a punt and body slammed a Browns fan who ventured on to the field. “We won, that was the statement we wanted. Margin of victory, stuff like that, is nice. But winning and going to the playoffs is our goal. That’s what we want.”
And that’s what they’ll get if the Steelers play like they did for 60 minutes.
With thousands of their fans waving “Terrible Towels” from every corner of Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Steelers dominated the Browns as thoroughly as in almost any meeting in the rivalry’s 55-year history.
Pittsburgh outgained Cleveland 457-178 and sacked Frye eight times. The Steelers handed the Browns (5-10) a loss every bit as demoralizing as their 43-0 shutout in the 1999 season opener when Cleveland made its return to the NFL as an expansion team.
“It’s definitely the most embarrassing loss of my career,” Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. “This is way worse than ’99. In ’99, we didn’t have a good team, now we got talent. But from the opening kickoff, we played bad football. Today we stunk.”
Then there was the fan who jumped the railing and sprinted onto the field in the fourth quarter. He made a move toward Pittsburgh’s bench before he was picked up and pancaked by Harrison before police took him away.
“I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Harrison said. “So I waited until he turned his back to me. Then I thought I could safely take him down and hold him until the authorities got there.”
Frye was treated even worse by the Steelers, who had him running for his safety on nearly every snap.
The Steelers game plan was to make Frye uncomfortable, and they did much more than that, confusing him with a variety of coverages and blitz packages.
“We wanted to rattle him,” linebacker James Farrior said. “He’s looked good, but he’s a rookie. So we threw a lot of different looks at him and brought a lot of pressure.”
Pittsburgh, which can clinch a playoff spot with a win over Detroit at home next week, seems to have fully recovered from a three-game losing streak that seriously jeopardized the Steelers’ postseason hopes.
Roethlisberger, now 21-3 as a starter, picked the Browns’ defense apart, going 13-of-20 for 226 yards in three quarters. Hines Ward caught a 7-yard TD pass in the first quarter and had seven receptions for 105 yards.
“Everything clicked real good for us on offense,” Roethlisberger said, “and our defense was flying around. They’re fun to watch when they’re playing like that. We went out there and did what we wanted to do.”
Parker finished with 17 carries for 130 yards, giving him 1,067 this season and making him the first Steelers back other than Jerome Bettis to go over 1,000 yards since 1992. Bettis scored Pittsburgh’s first TD in the first.
The Steelers were already ahead 20-0 when Parker broke through a huge hole in the line and easily outran Cleveland’s defensive backs for Pittsburgh’s longest rushing play since Kordell Stewart went 80 for a TD in 1996.
“That play was supposed to go left, but the hole was so big to the right that I took it,” Parker said. “I never thought I would lead the Steelers in rushing or get 1,000 yards. It’s an emotional moment for me.”
Pittsburgh’s dominance in the first quarter was so complete that it produced some almost unbelievable stats. In the opening period, the Steelers outgained the Browns 196-1; had 162 passing yards to minus-2 for Cleveland; and led in first downs 9-0.
“We didn’t do anything good or right,” Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. “I’m embarrassed getting beat like that.”
The Steelers have beaten Cleveland five straight times and won 11 of the past 12 meetings. Since 1994, Pittsburgh is 18-3 vs. Cleveland. … Jeff Reed kicked two field goals for Pittsburgh. … The Browns are 0-5 in the AFC North. … The Steelers have outscored their opponents 80-12 during their three-game winning streak.