GENE J. PUSKAR / AP Enlarge
PITTSBURGH - Willie Parker could take off for 99 yards some Sunday and he still wouldn't have the Pittsburgh Steelers' most time-consuming run of the season.
Ben Roethlisberger didn't fool the Cleveland Browns with his footwork or his speed. Especially, his speed. The very Big Ben is listed at 240 pounds, probably weighs closer to 250 and runs more like a linebacker - OK, maybe a defensive lineman - than a skill position player.
No matter. Roethlisberger's 30-yard run highlighted a second-half comeback during the Steelers' 31-28 victory over Cleveland on Sunday and may have been the best improvisational play of his four-season career.
Roethlisberger didn't as much trick the Browns as he did defy them, taking off on a run they dared him to make and one that seemed to last half a quarter.
The longest yards, indeed.
"I'd like to thank Willie for all the help he's giving me after practice being fast," Roethlisberger said, laughing.
With the Steelers facing a third-and-10 and Cleveland up 21-16 early in the fourth quarter, the Browns lined up in a two-deep zone. Every receiver faced the possibility of multiple coverage, but the running lanes were open.
The Browns used the same defense earlier, and Roethlisberger made a mental note to take off running at some point when he saw it again.
Roethlisberger took the snap in a shotgun formation, looked right and pump-faked once. As he did so, left guard Alan Faneca yelled, "Go! Go! Go! You're good," urging Roethlisberger to run.
With nearly all the Browns slanted toward one sideline, Roethlisberger tucked the ball in and took off to his left toward the other sideline. He was nearly tripped up at the 10 by Brodney Pool but, faking a slide, he stayed on his feet and dived into the end zone after Hines Ward's block eliminated the last potential tackler.
"I think I surprised the DB - I think I surprised myself - because I was ready to slide," Roethlisberger said. "But then I knew I was going to be able to get around him and Hines was downfield blocking. When I get that close to the end zone, I'm trying to get in. Just the will to win, I guess."
In distance, it couldn't compare to former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart's 80-yard run against Carolina in 1996.
In importance, it was the key play of the Steelers' season, even if Roethlisberger later needed a 10-yard scramble and a two-yard TD pass to tight end Heath Miller to secure the victory.
"Ben, he just keeps getting better and better," Ward said. "That was a great game he played today."
The Steelers (7-2) opened a two-game lead in the AFC North. A loss would have tied them with Cleveland (5-4) at 6-3.
Roethlisberger's statistics weren't spectacular - 23-of-34, 278, two touchdowns, one interception, plus five carries for 49 yards - but playing quarterback for Pittsburgh has never been about piling up numbers.
To the Steelers, this is what counts: Roethlisberger's 22 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, a major improvement from his 18 TDs and 23 interceptions during an 8-8 season a year ago. Only the Patriots' Tom Brady (33 TDs, 4 interceptions) has more TD passes and fewer interceptions.
On the same day the Colts' Peyton Manning threw a
career-high six interceptions in a surprise 23-21 loss at San Diego, defensive end Brett Keisel wondered when Roethlisberger will get credit for being one of the league's top quarterbacks.
To the Steelers, it seems
Roethlisberger's poor 2006 season, one that never got going after his preseason motorcycle crash and appendectomy, obscured the Super Bowl he won in his second season. Or the 13 consecutive starts he won as a rookie. Or the 27-4 record in his first 31 starts.
Roethlisberger's athleticism also was evident Oct. 28 against the Bengals, when he repeatedly used his strength to fend off tacklers, scramble and create plays during a 24-13 win. He followed that by throwing a team record-tying five touchdown passes, all in the first half, of a 38-7 Monday night rout of Baltimore.
Even after Roethlisberger won that Super Bowl, he wasn't viewed as being as much a team leader as he is today. A year ago, after Roethlisberger was seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident when he wasn't wearing a helmet, that feeling of leadership probably didn't exist in the locker room.
Now the Steelers are tied with Indianapolis for the second-best record in the AFC to the Patriots' 9-0, and Roethlisberger is largely responsible.
BROWNS NOTES: The Browns, who visit Baltimore Sunday, reported no major injuries from the Pittsburgh game. ... Joe
Jurevicius, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow refused to speak following the game and were not available yesterday. ... Guard Seth McKinney, placed on injured reserve on Saturday, is deciding when and where to have surgery on his separated shoulder. ... Ryan Tucker, normally a tackle, replaced McKinney and made his first start at guard in 10 years. "He was not too bad," coach Romeo Crennel said.40.43834 -79.99746