PITTSBURGH (AP) -- 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 TD 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."
With the score tied at 7, Roethlisberger scrambled to elude
Ebenezer Ekuban, then was flattened by Orpheus Roye's hit, yet
still found Plaxico Burress for 51 yards to the Cleveland 9. A play
later, Roethlisberger, apparently not rattled by the hit, powered
up the middle on a 6-yard TD run -- matching the number of scoring
runs the less-mobile Maddox has in 33 games with Pittsburgh.
"He made some throws," Roye said. "He played like a veteran.
You couldn't tell he was a rookie."
The threat Roethlisberger created by his running also led to his
37-yard scoring pass to Burress that made it 24-10 midway through
the third. Roethlisberger rolled out of the pocket, momentarily
freezing the defense and allowing Burress to slip 5 yards behind
cornerback Anthony Henry for an unguarded touchdown. Burress made
six catches for 136 yards.
"A lot of those plays aren't called, but the linemen are doing
a great job of blocking and the wide receivers are getting open,"
Roethlisberger said. "For me it's easy, all I've got to do is run
and throw the football."
While Roethlisberger stayed poised, Browns free agent
quarterback Jeff Garcia 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.
After Chris Crocker's 20-yard interception return for a
touchdown in the first quarter, Cleveland's only scoring consisted
only of Phil Dawson's three field goals until Andre Davis' 7-yard
touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Dawson is 11-of-11 this
season and has made 21 in a row since Oct. 19, 2003, to prop up an
offense that hasn't scored a first-half touchdown this season.
"If you settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, you never
create any heat on them," Garcia said.
Steelers rookie Richard Colclough's 59-yard return of the
opening kickoff set up Staley's touchdown just 1:20 into the game.
... Pittsburgh is 34-13 in October under coach Bill Cowher. ...
Hines Ward caught six passes for 61 yards to move past Lynn Swann
into third place in Steelers history with 5,506 yards receiving.
... The Steelers, next-to-last in rushing last season, have 491
yards rushing in their last three games. ... Burress' touchdown
catch was only the second against the Browns' secondary this