PITTSBURGH -- It was the Best of Times and Worst of Times in the Tale of Two Halves for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Steelers dominated the first half 27-3, but the Browns came back in the second half tie the score until a late drive capped by a 41-yard Shaun Suisham field goal gave the Steelers a 30-27 victory.
With the score tied at 27-27 midway through the fourth quarter and the Steelers reeling with a porous defense and impotent offense, something needed to be done. Tomlin called for a fake punt. Up-man Robert Golden, a backup safety and special teams captain, took the snap and threw a strike to Antwon Blake, another special teams ace and backup cornerback. The 25-yard play surpassed the total yardage that the Steelers had in the second half to that point, but it wasn't enough. Two short runs and a dropped pass by Justin Brown forced an actual punt.
A penalty by the Browns gave them a first down at the 6, but Hoyer drove them out from there with a 13-yard pass to Gary Barnidge, a hands-to-the-face penalty by Cam Heyward and 29-yard run by Terrance West. The Browns had a third-down play from the 35 with 4:40 left to make or break the game, and William Gay broke it up to force a punt.
The Steelers appeared to move pretty well on offense and get in position for a game-winning field goal, but that derailed quickly. Le'Veon Bell caught a pass for 19 yards and ran for 11 to get to midfield. However, on third-and-one, LeGarrette Blount took a delayed handoff and fell down for minus-4 yards to force a punt. This time, the Steelers defense stiffened and forced a punt from the end zone. Cam Heyward had a sack, and Gay drilled Hawkins for a five-yard loss after a short catch.
Cleveland's short punt went near midfield. Roethlisberger hit Bell for two yards, Markus Wheaton for 11 and a big 20-yarder to Wheaton to the 24. The ball was spiked with five seconds left to set up Suisham for the game-winning 41-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 30-27 victory.
The Steelers did anything they wanted against the Browns during the first half to hold a 27-3 advantage at the intermission. Their opening drive should have ended up in the end zone, but the short touchdown run was called back on a holding by left tackle Kelvin Beachum. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked on the next play, and the Steelers were forced to have Shaun Suisham kick a 36-yard field goal. It would be the only time the Steelers were stopped in the first half.
Cleveland answered with a 39-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff on its ensuing drive. However, despite a first-down run by Ben Tate and 47-yard connection from Bryan Hoyer to tight end Jordan Cameron -- who badly burned Lawrence Timmons on the play -- the Browns were stopped in the red zone. Jarvis Jones made the first of several big plays on the day, shutting down short run. There was an illegal shift and a Hoyer incompletion when he was drilled by Brett Keisel just after releasing the ball on a third-and-14 play that was incomplete.
The Steelers took control after that. Well, after Roethlisberger's ill-advised interception when he threw to Bell at the line, even though he was blanketed by Karlos Dansby. The Browns were at the 34, but a big 10-yard sack by Jones -- to match his last season's total -- a short Tate run and Hoyer incompletion forced a punt. Then, the Steelers took control.
Roethlisberger found Bell open for two straight first-down passes. The first went for just five yards, but the second one Bell turned into an explosive 30-yard gain. Bell also ran for a short first down, and Roethlisberger dropped back to pass on the next play. He was forced from the pocket, but was able to extend the play. This was just enough time for Antonio Brown to beat cornerback Joe Haden to the far corner of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown reception. The six-play drive went 89 yards and lasted 3:12.
The Steelers defense forced the Browns to punt and Brown nearly went the distance. Only punter Spencer Lanning stood in his way. Actually, Lanning ducked, which was bad for him and for Brown, who tried to hurdle the punter and basically stepped on his face. This was called a penalty for unnecessary roughness, so the Steelers were moved back to midfield. That didn't slow them much, however, as only two more plays were needed to score.
Roethlisberger fired a 12-yarder to Brown for a first down, and Bell completed the final 38 yards with a dazzling cut-back run. The Steelers then pinned the Browns deep in their own territory, and they didn't move much from there. The Steelers got the ball back late in the half and made good with a 64-yard drive in 10 plays. Roethlisberger hit Miller twice and Wheaton once for 11 yards. He then ran for seven to set up Suisham for a 34-yard field goal to end the half.
The Browns didn't need long to get into the end zone to open the second half. With Hoyer still at quarterback and despite clamoring for Johnny Manziel, the Browns went 80 yards in just six plays and 1:33. Hoyer found Johnstown's Andrew Hawkins for 16 yards in front of Ike Taylor, who then cost the Steelers 15 more yards with a facemask penalty. With running back Tate out with a knee injury, Terrance West burst for 22 yards. Hoyer also connected with Miles Austin for 17 yards and Taylor Gabriel for five before Isaiah Crowell -- who went to Carver High School in Columbus, Ga., just like Steelers Jarvis Jones and Chris Hubbard -- rammed it in from the 3 to make it 27-10.
Cleveland got a second touchdown from Crowell, a 15-yard burst into the end zone, to make it interesting after the Browns defense stuffed the Steelers. Hoyer had first-down passes to Hawkins for 19 yards and Travis Benjamin for 11 to get into the red zone. Crowell ran for two yards to the 15 and then completed the drive by blasting into the end zone to get the Browns within 10.
The Steelers continued to implode on offense and certainly weren't any better on defense, as they surrendered another long Browns drive. Fortunately for the Steelers, they held inside the 10-yard line to force a short field goal. Cundiff was solid from 25 yards to get within 27-20.
Roethlisberger got sacked on third down keep in Steelers territory to keep them pinned downed and give the Steelers defense a short field to cover. That wasn't good, as the Browns went 51 yards in seven plays and 2:35. Hoyer remained sharp in the second half with a 17-yard pass to Hawkins and 11-yarder to Benjamin for the touchdown, as Taylor remained a step behind. The touchdown tied the score at 27-27.