It took the Steelers' offense a little longer than that to catch up, but when it finally did Pittsburgh got a 28-10 victory that left it alone in first place in the AFC North following Baltimore's 23-20 overtime loss at New England Sunday.
After a slow start, Roethlisberger didn't disappoint in his first game back since returning last week from a four-week suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy, throwing for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Pittsburgh Steelers whipped the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
Taking some time to get accustomed to the speed of the game after sitting out the past month, Roethlisberger and the Steelers started slowly, taking just a 7-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. But he exploded in the second half, completing 9 of 16 passes for 177 yards and 2 TDs in the second half as the Steelers improved to 4-1.
"I don't think that it really hit me until I was pulling up to the stadium. Being on the field before the game got a little emotional," said Roethlisberger, who was loudly cheered throughout the game. "I felt like it was a pretty good day."
Not that anyone should be too surprised by that.
"He was sharp in training camp and in the preseason. He was sharp when he came back," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "He hadn't played in a month. You can characterize it however you want to characterize it. He missed a few throws. He's not perfect; none of us are. He played a good football game."
Roethlisberger wasn't alone. Running back Rashard Mendenhall had 94 total yards – 84 rushing, 15 receiving – and a touchdown, while linebackers James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons finished with 11 tackles each and a combined 3 1/2 sacks.
The injury to Cribbs was especially tough on the Browns, who had planned to use him at quarterback in their version of the wildcat offense. As it was, Cribbs, who had 83 yards rushing against the Steelers in a 13-6 victory in 2009, ended with 3 carries for 2 yards before the hit from Harrison left him unconscious on the field for several minutes.
"That ended the wildcat," said Harrison, noting he felt both hits were clean. "That's his thing. That's something that they designed for him. But even the few plays they did run, coach (Dick) LeBeau built a few defenses that were meant to go against that and they did pretty well in the times they did run it."
Without Cribbs, rookie quarterback Colt McCoy was left to face LeBeau and his confusing blitz schemes. The Steelers sacked McCoy five times and intercepted him twice, but the rookie did finish with 281 yards passing, much of which came late in the fourth quarter.
But, the day belonged to Roethlisberger.
With the Steelers clinging to a 7-3 lead and backed up to their own 4 late into the third quarter, Roethlisberger completed passes of 50 yards to Mike Wallace and 36 yards to Heath Miller on back-to-back plays.
"They're explosive, able to run the ball effectively and generate those big plays," said Cleveland coach Eric Mangini of the Steelers. "And with a guy like (Roethlisberger), it can happen at any point, it can happen quickly, and it can change things pretty quickly."
Three plays later, Roethlisberger threw to Ward on 3rd-and-goal and the receiver fought through a pair of potential tacklers for an 8-yard touchdown catch that made it 14-3.
Roethlisberger also threw a 29-yard scoring pass to Wallace early in the second quarter, and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller with 1:25 remaining after McCoy was intercepted by Timmons.