PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Cleveland Browns appear to be closing the gap between themselves and the rival Steelers.
They’re not there yet, though, not with Ben Roethlisberger able to beat teams two different ways in the same week.
Roethlisberger scrambled 30 yards for a key touchdown during Pittsburgh’s second-half comeback, then set up his own go-ahead 2-yard TD pass to Heath Miller with an important third-down run as the Steelers rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat Cleveland 31-28 Sunday.
Pittsburgh (7-2) beat Cleveland (5-4) for the ninth consecutive time. Barely. Phil Dawson could have tied it, but was short on a 52-yard field goal attempt with 6 seconds remaining.
Relying on Roethlisberger’s ability to shrug off blitzes and gain yards on plays that appeared to have broken down, plus his two TD passes, the Steelers took a big step toward making the playoffs after going 8-8 last season. Only six days before, Roethlisberger’s five touchdown passes led the Steelers to a 38-7 Monday night rout of Baltimore.
“All I ever hear is about (Tom) Brady and Peyton (Manning), but this guy we have here is very special,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He makes plays those guys don’t make and that’s what makes him so special. He can get out of the pocket, he can create, he’s a beast and we’re glad he wears black and gold.”
Cleveland led 21-6 in the first half as Cribbs’ 90-yard kickoff return led to one of Anderson’s three touchdown passes. But with the Browns offense managing only a single first down and no points in the second half, Roethlisberger’s TD scramble put the Steelers up for the first time at 24-21 early in the fourth quarter.
“I was ready to slide … but Hines (Ward) was downfield blocking and when I get that close to the end zone, I’m trying to get it,” Roethlisberger said.
Still, the Browns were in position to beat Pittsburgh for only the second time in their last 16 games after Cribbs’ improbable 100-yard kickoff return touchdown with about 11 minutes remaining. Cribbs fumbled the ball near the goal line and was forced to take off down the Steelers sideline out of desperation.
“We had him stacked up—it was a fluke and it just happened,” the Steelers’ Larry Foote said. “It definitely tested our character.”
A fluke? Cribbs finished with more yards on kickoff returns (204) than the Browns offense had total yards (163).
“It was a couple of inches from going into the end zone and I had to make a decision and live with it,” Cribbs said of his 100-yarder.
With the Steelers down 28-24, Roethlisberger (23-of-34, 278 yards) calmly led the decisive 78-yard scoring drive that lasted 8 minutes and featured All-Pro guard Alan Faneca challenging his teammates in the huddle to win it.
Roethlisberger kept the drive going with a 20-yard completion to Miller on third-and-18 and his own 10-yard run to the 2 on third-and-9 before Miller made a one-handed catch for the go-ahead score.
“Their whole philosophy was don’t give up the big play, see if Ben could read defenses and take what the defense gave them,” said Ward, who had a 12-yard TD catch. “Ben did a tremendous job of it.”
The Steelers, playing six days after their 38-7 Monday night rout of Baltimore, quickly fell into a bad habit: trading field goals for touchdowns.
They settled for three Jeff Reed field goals in the first half and fell behind 21-9 as Anderson threw TD passes of 4 yards to Kellen Winslow, 2 to Lawrence Vickers after Cribbs’ 90-yard kickoff return and 16 yards to Braylon Edwards.
LB James Harrison, who had two forced fumbles on defense and another on special teams Monday, had two more forced fumbles. … The Steelers are 4-0 in the division and 5-0 at home. … Willie Parker, who ran for a club record 223 yards against Cleveland last season, had 105 yards on 25 carries, the seventh running back to gain more than 100 against the Browns. … Roethlisberger has 22 touchdown passes, four more than his previous career high, with seven games to play.