In a season where divisional games have featured underdogs giving favorites all they can handle, the Steelers' 28-10 win vs. Cleveland Sunday stands out for Pittsburgh's relative ease of victory.
In QB Ben Roethlisberger's first start after serving a four-game suspension, the Steelers led only 7-3 with 5:12 left in the third quarter. But on 1st-and-10 from the Pittsburgh four, Roethlisberger beat the Browns' blitz with a 46-yard strike to WR Mike Wallace. On the next play, Roethlisberger found TE Heath Miller, who hadn't been much of a factor in the passing game with Roethlisberger out, for a 35-yard gain. Three plays later, Roethlisberger found WR Hines Ward for an eight-yard TD.
The drive was five plays, traveled 96 yards and lasted 119 seconds. When it was over, the Steelers had an 11-point lead. They would tack on two more TDs en route to victory.
Roethlisberger, who completed 16-of-27 passes for 257 yards with three TD passes and one interception, wasn't always sharp, but he was effective. With him at controls of the offense, the Steelers gained 378 yards.
Asked if Roethlisberger looked "anxious" throwing the ball, head coach Mike Tomlin responded: "He hadn't played in a month. You can characterize it the way you want to characterize it. He missed a few throws. He's not perfect; none of us are. He played a good football game."
The PFW spin
Don't underestimate the value of the Steelers' win in Week Six. They were working their starting quarterback back into the starting lineup after four games away from the team. They faced an improved Browns team that got a very good performance from rookie QB Colt McCoy and four times pinned Pittsburgh inside the 10-yard line with outstanding punts from Reggie Hodges.
If you think a win against Cleveland isn't something to be too excited about, consider this: Through Sunday, underdogs had won 16-of-27 divisional games outright. (One divisional game was rated a pick 'em; thus, there was no underdog or favorite.) Two weeks earlier, the Browns had upset the Bengals, the defending AFC North champions, who are now two games behind Pittsburgh in the standings.
And consider the Steelers' upcoming schedule. Their next three games are on the road: at Miami, at New Orleans, at Cincinnati. And when they return home on Nov. 14, they play the Patriots, a team whose offense has given them fits like few others.
With that sort of schedule in mind, improvement from Sunday's effort is necessary for the Steelers. Roethlisberger figures to be sharper as he gets more work, and he will have to be. His lone interception Sunday was thrown deep in Cleveland territory and returned 62 yards by CB Joe Haden, leading to a Browns field goal. On the other side of the ball, the pass defense has surrendered 508 net passing yards in the last two games.
At 4-1, the Steelers have a half-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North as they embark on a trying four-game stretch for any club. That they didn't play their best and still won comfortably Sunday is a positive sign. Note that the Steelers' 18-point win was the fifth-largest margin of victory in a divisional game this season through Sunday.