By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs after the catch for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers won 14-3. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
This was fairly scholarly research the Steelers were engaged in Thursday night, a highly exacting attempted calculation they were ultimately unable to quantify.
How many mistakes, exactly, does it take to lose to the Cleveland Browns?
That was their little project, but don't ask any of 'em for the number, because whatever it is, they never quite got there.
It was not for lack of effort.
Marcus Gilbert contributed two false start penalties, and banished offensive line starter Chris Kemoeatu even came off the bench to contribute the always unhelpful holding penalty, then doubled down with his equally irritating illegal-hands-to-the-facemask act, but there were mere minor annoyances to the near constant ricochet of major Steelers blunders that kept this dreary prime-timer quasi-competitive well into a long winter's night.
Did you miss "The Vampire Diaries" for this?
"Obviously we were not perfect; we worked against ourselves," said a relieved Mike Tomlin after his club somehow cobbled together a 14-3 victory, its 10th, for a half-game lead on the Ravens in the neck-and-neck AFC North. "We accept responsibility for that, but we'll always take the win."
Kemoeatu eventually nailed the yellow flag hat trick with another holding penalty, but it was the Steelers defense that set the whole dissonant tone on the first Cleveland possession, when Lawrence Timmons failed to adequately track nondescript tight end Evan Moore, who beat him down the left sideline for 33 yards to the Steelers 34. Soon thereafter Joshua Cribbs shook loose in the secondary for 25 yards to the 5.
Had it not been for the technological intrusion known as instant replay, the Browns would have been up 7-0 on Colt McCoy's scramble, but the automatic review put the ball at the 1, where James Farrior and Larry Foote stopped Peyton Hillis on a third-and-goal play, forcing a field goal and a 3-0 situation.
For the proud defense, it marked the first time an opponent had scored on its first possession since the Houston Texans did it the first weekend of the October.
It took Ben Roethlisberger just 3 minutes, 10 seconds to flip that, pushing the offense 73 yards on just five plays, the last one a 11-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery off a brief scramble that established a 7-3 score that hung around on NFL Network graphics until after the start of the 11 o'clock news.
Mistakes made it all possible, and no one dared changed the theme.
Hines Ward, with the catch that moved him within nine of 1,000, fumbled it away at the Cleveland 10 early in the second quarter, and Heath Miller aborted the next possession in the very same way at nearly the same exact spot -- the Browns 9 this time.
That was a vicious mistake because it came in the moments after Troy Polamalu returned an interception 33 yards to the 10.
I know it's hard to believe, but the Browns had no problem matching the home team mistake-for-mistake. Even as former Steelers inactive Scott Paxson sent Roethlisberger to the locker room late in the first half with a twisted left ankle, the Browns naturally failed to capitalize.
Not satisfied to merely watch his veteran defenders try to coax the Browns into the lead -- yeah that was Farrior nailing McCoy with an out of bounds hit and James Harrison flooring him helmet-to-helmet (up to date Roger Goodell fine information as soon as it becomes available; the over-under is $50,000) -- Tomlin insisted on making a conspicuous contribution to the ever-expanding lake of mistakes.
Have I heard that somewhere?
Watching three plunges into Cleveland's goal line defense come up wanting, Tomlin eschewed an extra-point length field goal in the fourth quarter that would have given the Steelers a robust 10-3 lead, instead sending Rashard Mendenhall back into a dubious proposition. D'Qwell Jackson and Michael Adams stoned Mendy and took the ball away, leading to all kinds of late urgency that never needed to exist.
It was William Gay who bailed Tomlin out, stepping in front of Mohamed Massaquoi on the left border of the Steelers end zone for the interception that rejected Cleveland's last attempt to take the lead away.
Antonio Brown did everyone a favor by escaping the sideline tackle of Joe Haden and turning Adams inside out on a late 79-yard touchdown reception to make the final score of 14-3 look as if it might resemble real competence.
You know better.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org. More articles by this author