CLEVELAND -- It's probably just as well for Cleveland Browns defensive end Simon Fraser that Ben Roethlisberger peeled off and chose not to block him on a fourth-quarter reverse by Steelers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. The way Big Ben's day was going, he probably would have knocked Fraser into next week, all 6 feet 6, 300 pounds of him.
"I gave him the ol' scare block. I was getting out of there," Roethlisberger recalled later.
It was the best of many wonderful decisions by Roethlisberger on a day when he made a serious statement that his 23-interception fiasco of a year ago was an aberration, that he is back to being the franchise quarterback the Steelers thought they drafted No. 1 in 2004 and became convinced they had when he led them to a 15-1 record as a rookie and a Super Bowl championship in '05. He threw a career-best four touchdown passes to four different receivers to kick off the Mike Tomlin era with a 34-7 win against a Browns' team that's so bad it has a realistic shot of going 0-16.
"I think we all want to prove that last year was a fluke," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who caught Roethlisberger's first touchdown pass, a sweet 5-yard fade on the Steelers' fourth offensive play.
We pause here for the mandatory word of caution: This was only one game, and against horrendous competition at that. You might remember the Steelers beat Miami to start 1-0 last season behind backup quarterback Charlie Batch when Roethlisberger was out, feeling the effects of his appendectomy four days earlier and, perhaps, his horrific motorcycle accident three months earlier. They lost their next three games with Roethlisberger back in charge on their way to a lame 8-8 season that left them outside looking in at the playoffs. So you probably should hold off on those Super Bowl plans for now.
But it's hard to imagine Roethlisberger playing as poorly again as he did in those three early losses last season when he had seven interceptions and no touchdown passes. He didn't throw his fourth touchdown pass last season until his fifth game, the Steelers' sixth. He had that in three quarters yesterday.
"The scary part is Ben is going to keep getting better and better as he learns this new offense," Ward said.
"I think the big thing is he realizes now that he doesn't have to do it all by himself. It's not all about Ben Roethlisberger. It doesn't have to be about Ben Roethlisberger. He has a great supporting cast. He has to trust us and use us to make plays for him."
Six players caught Roethlisberger passes against the Browns, everybody significant but Wilson and wide receiver Nate Washington. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes had the one big play, a 40-yard touchdown catch down the middle. And -- get this -- even tight ends Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller got into the scoring act. Maybe this offense, dreamed up by new coordinator Bruce Arians, really will be new and improved.
"I'm excited because I felt we were very unpredictable today," Roethlisberger said. "Other teams that watch this tape are going to have to prepare for so much. We got into the playbook a little, but we still have a lot in there that we haven't showed. That's exciting to me."
As always, Roethlisberger deflected credit to his offensive linemen. "Those guys did a great job." Tomlin and Arians have put Roethlisberger in charge for the first time of making the protection calls at the line and, by all accounts, that went fairly smoothly. He was hit a few times and sacked once, but largely had time to throw and escaped in one piece, thanks, in no small part, to that wise decision to avoid Fraser.
Again, as always, Roethlisberger also stroked his receivers' egos. "Those guys were open. I just had to get them the ball. I didn't want to miss the layups."
It all made for a thoroughly enjoyable day for everyone and provided Tomlin with that precious first NFL coaching win and a few memories that will last a lifetime.
"I know he's trying to play it off like he's not too excited about it, but I'm sure he's got to be thrilled," Roethlisberger said.
Everybody in Pittsburgh should be thrilled today.
Beating the hated Browns always makes for a terrific Sunday afternoon.
Doing it behind Big Ben -- especially considering where his game was a year ago -- makes it that much better.
"You couldn't ask for more from your quarterback."
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .