It has happened before when the Steelers put the game in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's hands, only this time he used his feet as well.
Roethlisberger ran 30 yards for one fourth-quarter touchdown, then ran another 10 on third down to set up a 2-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller with 3:13 left to lift the Steelers to a 31-28 victory against the surprising Cleveland Browns yesterday at Heinz Field.
It was the 10th time in Roethlisberger's career he has helped stage a fourth-quarter comeback victory.
"I was just trying to prove to you guys I didn't have a bad hip," Roethlisberger said with a laugh in his postgame news conference. "I'd like to thank Willie [Parker] for all the help he's been giving me after practice being fast."
The Steelers (7-2) opened a two-game lead in the AFC North Division, after it appeared the Browns (5-4) would catch them with a victory. With the help of an interception and two long kickoff returns by Joshua Cribbs -- his first of 90 yards set up a touchdown and he scored on a 100-yarder in the fourth quarter -- the Browns led, 21-9, at the half and 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter.
"One thing that is for certain: We stink as a kickoff coverage unit," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
But Roethlisberger and the Steelers' defense consumed the Browns' offense and defense in the second half. Roethlisberger completed 23 of 34 passes for 278 yards and touchdown throws to Miller and one of 12 yards to Hines Ward. Both touchdown passes came in the second half as Roethlisberger completed 13 of 17 for 170 yards and ran for another 40.
"I thought Ben did some nice things today," Tomlin said.
The Steelers overwhelmed the Browns, piling up 401 yards to 163. Cleveland managed just two first downs in the second half, both on its final drive that ended when Phil Dawson's 52-yard field-goal attempt to tie the score fell short.
"I thought we needed one of these," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said. "I didn't want it to be like this, but maybe sometimes you need to see what your team is made of as far as when they are down, and what kind of character they have."
They were down, quickly, then emphatically to the Browns, a 10-point underdog and a team the Steelers beat in the opener at Cleveland, 34-7.
Cleveland took a 7-0 lead with a Steelers-like opening drive. The Browns covered 71 yards in 16 plays that took 8:55. Quarterback Derek Anderson threw his first of three touchdown passes 4 yards to tight end Kellen Winslow.
Jeff Reed kicked the first of his three field goals, from 28 yards, as the Steelers went 0 for 6 in the red zone in the first half -- the Browns scored three touchdowns and the Steelers kicked three field goals.
Reed kicked two field goals in the second quarter, from 35 and 30 yards. Meantime, Anderson threw scoring passes of 2 yards to Lawrence Vickers and 16 yards to Braylon Edwards. Vickers scored after Cribbs' 90-yard return to the Steelers' 3. Edwards' touchdown came after Brodney Pool's interception of Roethlisberger put the ball on the Steelers' 13.
"They jumped on us early, but we didn't veer off or panic," said Ward, who led all receivers with seven receptions for 80 yards. "We just kept playing and playing and found a way to win in the second half. That says a lot about our team."
It was Ward who helped put them back in it when he caught a touchdown pass in the third quarter. It came after last Monday night's superhero, linebacker James Harrison, forced another fumble. He stripped Cleveland's Jamal Lewis, and Ike Taylor recovered the ball at the Browns' 38.
The Steelers took their first lead early in the fourth quarter, moving behind the no-huddle offense. On third-and-10, Roethlisberger dropped back and, after looking over the defense, saw it part in the middle. That's where he ran, 30 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"I just remember I was in the pocket and I heard Alan [Faneca] literally saying, 'Go! Go! Go!' ... and I started running," Roethlisberger said. "I think I surprised the DB. I surprised myself because I was ready to slide."
Instead, behind a block by Ward, he made it to the end zone. He completed a pass to Ward for a 2-point conversion and the Steelers led, 24-21.
Heinz Field was rocking, and a cheer went up when Cribbs muffed the ensuing kickoff. He ran back and picked up the ball at the goal line. At least four Steelers had a shot at him inside the 5-yard line and all missed him. Cribbs raced 100 yards for a touchdown that silenced the crowd and put the Browns on top, 28-24.
Now, the Steelers' offense had to go back out and do it again.
"That's tough to go back out there that fast," Faneca said. "We just did a little bit of no-huddle. It took a lot to get back out there and get focused."
Faneca made sure they did just that, blurting out some words to start the drive that cannot be printed.
"Faneca just took over the huddle," said Parker, who ran 25 times for 105 yards. "It's usually Ben or somebody else. When you see the fire in your lineman's eyes like that, you're going to go and give it your all."
The Steelers started at their 22 with 11:10 left. Roethlisberger completed one third-down pass to Santonio Holmes of 18 yards. He completed another for 20 to Miller on third-and-18. He scrambled for 10 on third-and-9 to the 2, got up limping, and two plays later threw a fastball to Miller, who caught it between two defenders in the end zone.
"It wasn't a huge crease there, but he put it right where it needed to be," Miller said.
It appeared Miller caught it with one hand, and Browns coach Romeo Crennel thought he did not catch it at all. One of his players called a timeout before the Steelers kicked the extra point, then Crennel challenged the play. When the score was upheld, Crennel found himself down two timeouts, which might have been useful on the Browns' last drive.
It was the first comeback victory of the season for the Steelers.
"I'm really proud of all of our guys," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We have to do better on kickoff coverage, but for the most part, staying, believing and fighting to the end was impressive today."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published November 6, 2007 4:15 AM