Pittsburgh 31 Cleveland 28
NOVEMBER 11, 2007
That wasn't a monkey the Browns were carrying on their backs.
It was King Kong.
The big ape resided in Pittsburgh, whose team had been using its North Division rival as its own personal punching bag since the turn of the century. The Browns had lost 14 of their previous 15 encounters and eight in a row to the Steelers, including a 34-7 opening-day dismantling in Cleveland.
Most figured that defeat signaled yet another black-and-blue season for the Orange and Brown. But instead it provided motivation for a team that had proven too talented to be as pathetic as its predecessors. As the Browns prepared for the rematch, they were merely one game behind the first-place Steelers.
The Browns had won five of seven heading into the showdown. But coach Romeo Crennel understood the enormity of the task ahead. Aside from New England, Pittsburgh was the toughest team Cleveland had faced in the first half of the season.
"It's going to take probably our best game of the year," Crennel told the News-Herald. "But our guys are excited. We're going to go down there and play a good game."
That meant a continuation of the offensive success that had marked the Browns' resurgence as well as a defensive performance they had yet to display. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had dominated the Browns, especially in the clutch, and featured back Willie Parker had always run wild against them.
The Steelers didn't appear to be missing a beat under new coach Mike Tomlin. Not only had they bolted to a 6-2 record, but their defense ranked atop the AFC and Parker was leading the conference in rushing. Roethlisberger was enjoying his most productive season with 20 touchdown passes, including five in the first half of a 38-7 victory over Baltimore the previous Monday night.
And if the Browns hoped to slow down the Steelers, that meant slowing down linebacker James Harrison, who performed brilliantly against the Ravens with 3 ½ sacks and a fumble recovery and was on pace for 13 sacks on the year. Quarterback Derek Anderson was understandably concerned.
"Obviously, the Steelers have been playing well," he told clevelandbrowns.com. "But you just have to go in there with confidence and continue to do the same things that you've been doing. If you go out there intimidated, you're in for a long day."
The Browns didn't play intimidated on this afternoon. They performed as well as they had against the Steelers in quite a while. But King Kong would remain squarely on their backs.
King Kong was hanging on with one paw. The Browns were on the verge of shedding the big beast.
It was late in the second quarter. Braylon Edwards had just snagged a 16-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to give Cleveland a 21-6 lead in Pittsburgh. Their defensive teammates were playing well. It appeared the jinx was about to end.
Appearances, however, can be deceiving. And when the final tick went off the game clock, the Browns had lost their 15th decision in the last 16 games against their hated North Division rival, courtesy of a frustrating 31-28 defeat.
Any thought that the Browns would indeed be intimidated on the road against a team that had dominated them were dispelled immediately. They opened the scoring with four minutes remaining in the first quarter on a 4-yard scoring strike from Anderson to tight end Kellen Winslow.
Pittsburgh answered three minutes later on a 28-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, but the Browns stretched the lead to 14-3 on a 2-yard touchdown reception by fullback Lawrence Vickers four seconds into the second quarter that was set up by a 90-yard kickoff return by Josh Cribbs.
Edwards' score was sandwiched between two more Reed field goals. The Browns led 21-9 at halftime and had kept Roethlisberger, Parker and Co. out of the end zone.
The Steelers' quarterback would exact revenge after intermission. He narrowed the deficit to 21-16 midway through the third quarter on a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hines Ward, who led both teams with seven receptions for 80 yards. Roethlisberger then befuddle the Browns on the ground, scoring on a 30-yard run before hitting Ward for a two-point conversion to put his team ahead, 24-21.
That's when Cribbs came to the rescue, racing 100 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff to swing the lead back to the Browns, 28-24. But with three minutes left, tight end Heath Miller grabbed a 2-yard scoring pass from Roethlisberger as the Steelers forged ahead, 31-28.
The Browns had one last drive in them. But, alas, placekicker Phil Dawson's 52-yard field goal attempt into the wind with six seconds remaining fell short.
And King Kong was still hanging around.
The Browns knew they had the Steelers on the ropes and that they couldn't deliver the knockout blow. They also knew that in a playoff race, every defeat was critical.
And they were mad as they spoke to the media in the locker room after the heartbreaking 31-28 loss in Pittsburgh.
"This hurts worse than the (defeat to the Steelers in Week 1) because they blew us out in that one," linebacker Andra Davis told the News-Herald. "Here, we knew we had them."
Well, they had the Steelers for a while, anyway. But the defense that had held Pittsburgh to three field goals in the first half gave up two scoring strikes and a touchdown run to Ben Roethlisberger thereafter. The result was a ninth consecutive loss to the Steelers. To say the least, it was getting monotonous.
Browns linebacker Antwan Peek hadn't experienced all those defeats, but he was upset nonetheless. After all, a first-place tie in the AFC North had just slipped through their fingers. And a team that had established home field dominance was still struggling away from Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"This is the first time in my NFL career I had the opportunity to play for first place," Peek said. "It was frustrating knowing we worked that hard and put ourselves in position to play to win but didn't finish it off."
They didn't finish it off because the defense couldn't prevent Pittsburgh from scoring down the stretch. They forced a 3rd-and-18 on the Steelers' final drive, but Roethlisberger hit Miller for 20 yards and a first down, then ran for 10 more before the game-winning touchdown pass to Miller.
"Their whole philosophy was don't give up the big play, see if Ben could read defenses and take what the defense gave them," Ward told espn.com. "Ben did a tremendous job of it."
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel agreed.
"All I ever hear about is (New England quarterback Tom Brady) and (Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning)," he said. "But this guy we have is a very special. He makes plays those guys don't make and that's what makes him so special. He can get out of the pocket, he can create, he's a beast and we're glad he wears black and gold."
The guys who wear black and gold always seem to make the orange and brown blue.