- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
For the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1), Roethlisberger showed why the Steelers -- who beat the Cleveland Browns 28-10 at Heinz Field -- are legit contenders for their second Super Bowl title in three years. For Cleveland (1-5), McCoy's performance in his NFL debut showed the Browns that they finally may have a longterm solution at quarterback.
Coming off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, Roethlisberger threw for 257 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in his first game since January. His quarterback rating was 112.7. McCoy, a third-round draft choice from Texas, impressed by fending off Pittsburgh's aggressive defense and throwing for 281 yards and one touchdown. McCoy, picked off twice, made some rookie mistakes but played much better than expected.
Roethlisberger understood what the performances meant for both franchises and congratulated McCoy after the game.
"I was proud of him," said Roethlisberger, who improved to 11-1 all time against the Browns. "It was not an easy task that he had today, on the road against our defense. I told him I was proud. I thought he played well and to keep his head up. We will see him down the road. He's got a long, really good career (ahead), I believe."
Browns coach Eric Mangini wouldn't commit to McCoy afterward, but the rookie surely has earned another start next week, against the New Orleans Saints. Veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace are recovering from ankle injuries, and chances are neither player will be 100 percent.
McCoy, whose passing total was a season-high for Cleveland, was sacked five times and took nine other hits but still made several good plays.
"I prepare every week like I'm the starter; I think because of that, it's helped me grow to where I am right now," McCoy said. "Obviously, you don't want to come here and lose. I go into each game expecting to win, expecting to play good. That's why I'm here, that's why they drafted me."
Roethlisberger, who received a loud pre-game ovation from fans Sunday, shook off some rust early to energize Pittsburgh offense. He threw an interception on the Steelers' opening drive, but settled down to throw for two touchdowns in the second half to put the game out of reach.
Pittsburgh entered the game ranked last on offense overall and last in passing under backup quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. But Roethlisberger connected on five plays of 20 yards or more. In one scoring drive in the third quarter, Roethlisberger completed a 50-yard pass to receiver Mike Wallace, a 36-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller and an 8-yard touchdown throw to Hines Ward. It was the first time this season that Pittsburgh made offense look easy and was able to gain yards in bunches.
Roethlisberger, who completed 16 of 27 passes, admitted he left "a lot of plays out there" and his accuracy isn't all the way back. He badly overthrew Wallace for a potentially huge gain down the right sideline in the second half, a completion Roethlisberger usually makes easily.
"The ball was coming out what we call 'hot,' coming out high and strong," Roethlisberger explained.
Once Roethlisberger eliminates the rust, Pittsburgh will be one of the NFL's more balanced and dangerous offenses. Running back Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown, and Pittsburgh put up 378 total yards without the offense playing its best for at least one half.
"I really didn't want [Roethlisberger] to be flawless coming back," Wallace said. "Then, we wouldn't really have anything to work on ... I think it's going to make for a better team because, come Wednesday, we go back to practice and we're going to work even harder."
But Sunday was a great starting point for Roethlisberger -- and McCoy.