November 24, 2013
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns yesterday as the Steelers won their third straight game. (USA Today Sports)
CLEVELAND, Ohio – As part of his ownership stake in the Browns, Ben Roethlisberger might be tempted to pitch city council today on the deal to renovate his personal lakefront playground.
Who has more fun in this place? (Not you or me, certainly).
Who feels more at home? (Not any of the 117 or so quarterbacks who’ve started games for the Browns during Roethlisberger’s career)
If the first 15 times didn’t convince you, the 16th should. That’s Roethlisberger’s record against the Browns now: 16-1. Which is only ridiculous. Throw Baltimore’s Joe Flacco in there and it’s 27-2 against the top two QBs in the AFC North.
Even with the mental agility of a sports writer, it’s easy to detect not only a trend there but to conclude that maybe the quarterback matters.
Today, the talk will no doubt touch on a non-call on a sack of Jason Campbell that left him concussed and the Steelers in possession inside the Browns’ 5. Rob Chudzinski argued Campbell was hit in the head. He was. The refs didn’t think so.
Of that turnover and three others, Browns safety T.J. Ward spoke to the frustration of watching this offensive ineptness by saying the Browns can’t win giving the ball away.
They probably weren’t going to beat Roethlisberger with Campbell remaining vertical either. Not Sunday. Not most Sundays. Especially when Roethlisberger had protection, the lead, and was coming off his best game of the season against Detroit.
The Browns are so limited offensively, it didn't take much to put them on the brink of yet another loss to Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger’s 41-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown over the top of Joe Haden gave the Steelers a 10-3 lead that felt more like 20-3.
The Browns never got Roethlisberger to the ground. They missed the few opportunities they had.
“He’s a great player,” said Chudzinski. “You know what you have to do. It’s just hard to do it against him.”
What the Browns have to do to beat him, apparently, is sack him eight times as they did in freezing conditions in 2009 for a 13-6 victory. That was his only loss. Sunday he was 22 of 34 for two touchowns and a 102.2 passer rating. Without a punishing running attack. Without James Harrison cracking helmets.
We can only conclude the Browns won’t close the gap on the Steelers until Roethlisberger is traded, retires or the home team finds a dueling franchise QB.
Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi tabled that agenda until at least 2014, deciding (rightly) that Brandon Weeden probably wasn’t the answer but that the answer wasn’t going to present itself this early in their tenure.
They saw Campbell as insurance, not as a path out of the darkness. Right again. When Brian Hoyer became available after the Campbell signing, they acquired him as a bridge to the Next Big Thing.
After Sunday, the Browns clearly are what we thought they were. And, just as clearly, what they thought they were. A franchise under construction, especially offensively.
That was obvious when they delayed their gratification with draft day trades, sent their No. 1 running back packing for a 2014 first rounder and decided they were fine with Weeden backing up Campbell.
They’ve won games with all three of their quarterbacks playing, if you give Weeden part ownership of the Buffalo win (I do). Not many teams can say that. But it’s just as obvious nothing Hoyer or Campbell did this season should stop the Browns from pursuing their Ben Roethlisberger.
“Everybody was saying they aren’t the same Pittsburgh,” Willis McGahee said of Sunday’s 27-11 Steelers win. “But at the end of the day they did what they do best.”
Put the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands and let him dictate the pace and flow. Pittsburgh’s only glitch was when they took it out of his hands and got stuffed trying to convert a fourth-and-1 near midfield. The Browns, not surprisingly, did nothing with the gift of field position. That was a theme in the first half, too. In fact, they wrapped up the sack-fumble of Campbell for the Steelers.
This was not Pittsburgh’s usual scary defense, but that's not required to handle the Browns’ offense.
The Browns won the Trent Richardson trade. Nobody will argue that. But that reward won’t come until next spring when, armed with picks, they go looking for a quarterback and a renaissance on offense.
The draft has been moved from April to May in 2014.
So the wait is delayed more than normal. But the turnaround has been so long in coming, what’s another week or two?