Steelers 34, Browns 23
The Pittsburgh Steelers keep telling themselves Ben Roethlisberger is only a rookie and they can't expect too much. Apparently, their opponents are unwisely taking the same approach.
Roethlisberger, becoming more comfortable and more productive with each start, confused Cleveland with his running and creativity and the Steelers won their third in a row behind the rookie quarterback, beating the Browns, 34-23, Sunday.
Browns safety Earl Little said beforehand that Roethlisberger wasn't Cleveland's biggest worry because the Steelers are asking him only to manage their offense and keep from making mistakes. Turns out the Browns might have underestimated him just a little.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Roethlisberger was 16 for 21 for 231 yards, a touchdown pass and a touchdown run. And to think he might not be playing if starter Tommy Maddox hadn't hurt his right elbow Sept. 19 against Baltimore.
"Every week is getting better," Roethlisberger said. "It's all just starting to come together."
Just as it is for the Steelers, who are 4-1 for only the third time in 22 seasons after going 6-10 last season. Duce Staley complemented Roethlisberger by scoring on a 25-yard run while gaining 117 yards, his third consecutive 100-yard game.
The Browns (2-3) missed a chance to move over .500 after multiple games for the first time since late in the 2002 season and dropped two games behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Some NFL scouts felt Roethlisberger needed the most polishing of the three quarterbacks chosen early in the April draft. Yet while the Giants' more-publicized Eli Manning and the Chargers' Philip Rivers are sitting, Roethlisberger is only the sixth rookie quarterback to win his first three starts since the NFL merger in 1970. Steelers rookie Mike Kruczek was 6-0 in 1976.
"He made a couple of plays that, yeah, you definitely look at and say, 'Boy, this guy can play,' " Steelers center Jeff Hartings said. "The way he throws on the run, being able to stop and sling it 40-50 yards, that's just natural ability. I think Pittsburgh's going to be happy to have him."
While Roethlisberger stayed poised, Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia, a free agent signee in the offseason, still looked uncomfortable out of the 49ers' West Coast offense despite dodging a heavy pass rush to throw for 210 yards.
Coach Butch Davis, 1-7 against the Steelers, made no move to replace him with Kelly Holcomb, who passed for 663 yards in his two career starts against Pittsburgh.