Pittsburgh 21, Cleveland 18
When: 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, September 10, 2017
Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
CLEVELAND -- Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continued his mastery over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday by throwing two touchdown passes to tight end Jesse James to lead the Steelers to a 21-18 victory in the season-opening game for both teams.
Roethlisberger is now 21-2 as a starter against the Browns, 11-1 in Cleveland. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 263 yards and posted a 95.0 passer rating on Sunday.
The Steelers tried to set the tone quickly. They deferred after winning the coin toss, drove the Browns backward on three plays and then blocked a punt by Britton Colquitt. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich knifed through the middle of the line to swat the ball and Anthony Chickillo fell on it in the end zone for the touchdown.
"Obviously it wasn't pretty today, but we'll take what we can get," Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said. "We found a way today. Special teams early in the game was huge for us -- the first touchdown of the season. Usually when you're blocking a punt you're winning the game."
The Browns settled down after another shaky possession in which rookie DeShone Kizer was sacked twice before tying the score on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The key play in the 68-yard drive was a 21-yard pass interference penalty on Steelers safety Sean Davis at the Pittsburgh 4-yard line. Kizer scored two plays later.
Kizer finished his first NFL regular-season start completing 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Head coach Hue Jackson was not happy with the final score, but he was encouraged by what he saw from the rookie.
"I like DeShone," Jackson said. "I like the feel of him on the sideline with me. I love our communication. He did some good things. There were some opportunities he'd be the first to tell you he'd like to have back. That's going to happen to a young quarterback, but this guy gave us a chance. He put the team in position to make something special happen."
The first half was a clash of defenses for the most part, but then with 45 seconds left in the first quarter, the Steelers took a 14-7 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to James.
The Steelers had 62 yards of offense until the scoring drive that started at the Steelers 9. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had 80 yards on three receptions on the drive -- one of them 50 yards on a pass deflected by linebacker Joe Schobert over the middle.
Brown was targeted 11 times and caught all 11 passes for 182 yards. He went into the game with 75 catches for 1,130 yards in 11 games against the Browns, so his success in the opener was no surprise. In the past, he made most of his catches against Joe Haden, who started at cornerback for the Browns. But is now with the Steelers. He had his success on Sunday against Jamar Taylor.
"He's a dynamic player," Taylor said. "He made a one-handed catch on me on a slant. We'll look at the tape. We'll get ready for Baltimore next week and next time we play Pittsburgh, we'll be ready to roll."
The Browns cut the deficit to 14-10 on a 24-yard field goal by rookie Zane Gonzalez with 9:27 left in the third quarter.
The Steelers expanded their advantage to 21-10 on the following possession when Roethlisberger hooked up with James for a 2-yard pass out of an empty backfield. Roethlisberger got excellent protection on the play and found James in front of Schobert.
The Steelers made life miserable for the Browns quarterback -- this time Kizer. They sacked the rookie seven times and then snuffed out a drive late in the third quarter when linebacker T.J. Watt intercepted a pass on the Pittsburgh 17.
"I saw Kizer looking my way so I kind of was sinking back into coverage and the ball came right to me," Watt said. "I was trying not to fumble the ball away. I was tired."
A 3-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to Corey Coleman and a two-point conversion by running back Isaiah Crowell cut the Steelers lead to 21-18 with 3:36 to play, but the Browns did not get the ball back.
The Browns are 1-17 in season openers since 1999. They have been victimized three times by the Steelers in that stretch.
The Steelers rolled up 290 yards of offense in the opener. They won despite committing 13 penalties for 144 yards.
"We stopped ourselves a lot, but give them credit -- they're a good defense," Roethlisberger said.
NOTES: CB Joe Haden, who was cut by the Browns on Aug. 30, started for the Steelers. He just missed picking off a pass in the second quarter. ... Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell, in his first game after missing the preseason in a contract dispute, carried 10 times for 32 yards. ... Cleveland LT Joe Thomas, who has never missed a snap with the Browns, started his 161st straight game on Sunday. ... QB Cody Kessler, who was 0-8 as a starter last season with the Browns, was inactive. QB Kevin Hogan, with no NFL starts, backed up rookie DeShone Kizer.
Top Game Performances
Team Stats Summary
Cleveland will play their next game on the road against Baltimore. The Browns have a W/L % of .000 after a win and .000 after a loss.
Pittsburgh will play their next game at home against Minnesota. The Steelers have a W/L % of 1.000 after a win and .000 after a loss.