Browns 3

(4-9, 1-5 away)

Steelers 14

(10-3, 6-1 home)

Coverage: NFL

8:20 PM ET, December 8, 2011

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA 

1 2 3 4 T
CLE 3 0 0 03
PIT 7 0 0 714

Top Performers

Passing: B. Roethlisberger (PIT) - 280 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: R. Mendenhall (PIT) - 18 CAR, 76 YDS

Receiving: A. Brown (PIT) - 5 REC, 151 YDS, 1 TD

Ben Roethlisberger returns in second half, leads Steelers past Browns news services

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger laid on the Heinz Field turf, convinced his left leg was broken. The Pittsburgh Steelers huddled around their franchise quarterback, concerned their promising season was in jeopardy.

Not quite.

Same old Big Ben. And same old Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger added to his burgeoning reputation as one of the toughest players in the game by returning from a gruesome second-quarter sack to pass for 280 yards and two scores -- including a 79-yard strike to Antonio Brown with 2:52 remaining -- to lift the Steelers to a 14-3 victory Thursday night.

"You can't say enough about our quarterback," Brown said. "It's amazing to play with a guy like that who exemplifies that type of toughness."

Not that Roethlisberger felt particularly tough after getting his left leg caught underneath Cleveland's Scott Paxson midway through the second quarter.

"It was one of the most painful things I ever felt," Roethlisberger said. "It felt like the middle of my leg was just, cracked ... it felt like my foot was outside of my leg."

He went to the locker room for X-rays while veteran Charlie Batch tried to fill in. The X-rays showed no break and Roethlisberger returned.

Roethlisberger, who will have an MRI on his ankle Friday, was spotted leaving the stadium last night in a walking boot, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Steelers have 10 days off before a game in San Francisco.

"Doctors said, 'Just keep moving,' " Roethlisberger said. "As we kept going they said, 'Just keep moving,' because it literally felt like it was about to explode."

Roethlisberger received a rousing ovation when he walked back onto the field to start the second half, though it was obvious he was in serious pain. He hobbled to the line of scrimmage, he tip-toed while handing the ball off and he grimaced while stepping up to throw.

Yet he somehow completed 8 of 12 passes for 178 yards after the break, including the sealing touchdown to Brown, who caught the ball near midfield then beat Cleveland's Mike Adams to the end zone.

"I'm proud of him and glad he scored because I wouldn't have been able to make it down there if we had to run another play," Roethlisberger said, laughing.

Brown finished with five receptions for 151 yards and a score as the Steelers (10-3) won for the eighth time in their last nine games to move a half-game in front of Baltimore for the AFC North lead.

Yet the night won't be remembered for Brown's spectacular catch-and-run but Roethlisberger's John Wayne impersonation and Cleveland's typical meltdown against its biggest rival.

The Browns (4-9) lost for the 15th time in their last 16 games with the Steelers, though they had plenty of chances to pick up their first victory at Heinz in eight years.

Colt McCoy passed for 209 yards but also threw two interceptions for the Browns (4-9), who lost for the 15th time in their last 16 meetings with the Steelers.

McCoy left briefly in the fourth quarter after taking a crashing helmet-to-helmet hit from Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison.

The second-year quarterback was scrambling out of trouble when he tucked the ball under his arm briefly as if to run. He pulled up as Harrison approach and flipped a short pass to Montario Hardesty just before Harrison smashed into him. McCoy laid on the field for several moments before making his way off.

He refused to say whether he felt Harrison's hit was a cheap shot, but acknowledged that "it got me for a minute."

Harrison, who has faced stiff fines in the past for hits against defenseless players, believes he didn't do anything wrong.

"From what I understand, once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he's considered a runner," Harrison said. "All the defenseless(ness) and liberties that a quarterback has in the pocket are gone and you can tackle him just as he's a running back. The hit wasn't late, so I really don't understand why it was called."

Seneca Wallace filled in, leading the Browns to the Pittsburgh 5. McCoy returned but he wasn't the same. He was flagged for intentional grounding on his first play back to push the ball back to the Pittsburgh 16. He tried to hit Mohamed Massaquoi in the end zone on the next snap, but Pittsburgh's William Gay easily stepped in front of it for an interception.

"I just didn't get enough on it, underthrew it and their guy made a nice play and that was basically the game," McCoy said.

Pittsburgh's defense gave a little but did not break, keeping McCoy winless against AFC North opponents in his brief career. He's 0-8 against division rivals, though there was plenty of blame to go around.

Cleveland receivers dropped several passes and running back Peyton Hillis managed just 25 yards on 10 carries.

"You can look at the raw yardage and say, 'Well, I don't know what kind of performance it was,'" Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. "But we kept them out of the end zone until that last big pass. There's some things we can build on."

Maybe, but they failed to take advantage on a night when the Steelers had trouble getting out of their own way.

Twice in the first half Pittsburgh turned it over in the red zone. Hines Ward fumbled at the Cleveland 15 early in the second quarter to halt on Pittsburgh drive. The Steelers got it right back on Troy Polamalu's first interception of the season. Polamalu returned the pick to the Cleveland 10.

Following a false start penalty, Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller in the flat, but the ball came tumbling out after getting hit by Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden to squander another opportunity.

The Browns were hardly better. McCoy appeared to score a touchdown on Cleveland's opening possession, but the score was overturned by replay, which showed McCoy's knee hitting the ground with the ball just short of the goal line.

The Steelers stuffed the Browns on third down and Cleveland settled for Phil Dawson's 20-yard field goal.

Pittsburgh appeared to be off to the races when Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for an 11-yard score before injury changed things dramatically. Yet the Steelers survived again behind the play of one of the league's toughest competitors.

Roethlisberger has already played through a sprained left foot and a fractured right thumb this season, though the pain paled in comparison to what he felt in the second half. Still, he managed to survive and keep Pittsburgh's hopes for a division title and homefield advantage through the playoffs very much alive.

"It's one of those things with him where you're literally are going to have to take him off the field on a stretcher to get him out of the play," Batch said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

1st Downs1920
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
Total Plays6953
Total Yards304416
Yards per play4.47.8
Total Drives119
Yards per pass
Interceptions thrown
Sacks-Yards Lost
Rushing Attempts
Yards per rush
Red Zone (Made-Att)0-31-2
Fumbles lost
Interceptions thrown
Defensive / Special Teams TDs00

Passing Leaders


Rushing Leaders


Receiving Leaders


Scoring Summary

cleFG9:26Phil Dawson 20 Yard Field Goal is Good
Drive info: 10 plays, 78 yds, 5:38
pitTD6:19Jerricho Cotchery 11 Yard Pass From Ben Roethlisberger (Shaun Suisham Kick is Good)
Drive info: 5 plays, 73 yds, 3:10
pitTD3:05Antonio Brown 79 Yard Pass From Ben Roethlisberger (Shaun Suisham Kick is Good)
Drive info: 2 plays, 80 yds, 0:19

Research Notes

Antonio Brown, currently in his second season with the Steelers, has increased his productivity over the last 7 games, averaging 5.3 receptions and 94.7 yards per game. During his first 6 games of the year, Brown was averaging just 3 receptions and 43.7 yards per game. He had a career-high 151 receiving yards in Pittsburgh's 14-3 win against Cleveland on Thursday night.
NEXT LEVEL: The Steelers sent plenty of additional pass pressure after Colt McCoy and it paid dividends. The additional pressure forced an intentional grounding and interception with the Browns driving and down four points late in the game. Overall, McCoy was 7 of 14 for 52 yards and two interceptions against added pressure.
NEXT LEVEL: Ben Roethlisberger completed 13-of-15 passes (86.7 percent) that traveled fewer than 15 yards downfield Thursday, including both of his touchdowns. Roethlisberger entered the game with a 70.3 completion percentage on such throws, the fourth-highest rate in the league.

ESPN Stats & Information