CLEVELAND — The Steelers defeated the Browns, 21-18, in their season opener Sunday in Cleveland.
Jesse James caught two touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger, and rookie T.J. Watt had two sacks and an interception to lead the way for the defense.
The Browns scored for the second time in the contest on their first possession of the third quarter. Rookie Zane Gonzalez kicked a 24-yard field goal and the Steelers lead slipped to 14-10. It might have been tied except on second down from the nine, rookie Watt sacked quarterback DeShone Kizer, his first in the NFL, for an eight-yard loss.
But the Steelers responded with a touchdown drive of 75 yards, more than half of that consumed on one penalty, a 41-yard pass interference by cornerback Jamar Taylor on a deep pass to Antonio Brown.
Roethlisberger, on third down, threw his second touchdown pass to James for two yards and the Steelers led 21-10.
The Browns threatened again on their next series, especially after Watt hit Kizer later after Anthony Chickillo sacked him for the second time Sunday. They had a first down at the Steelers' 29 when, on the next play, Watt made amends with a leaping interception. He returned it 17 yards to the 34.
The Browns eventually got within three points, however, when Corey Coleman caught a 3-yard touchdown from Kizer and Isaiah Crowell added a two-point conversion with 3:36 remaining in regulation.
The Steelers were able to run out the clock on the ensuing drive, however, picking up a couple of first downs, including a one on a circus catch by Brown out near midfield.
A sluggish Steelers offense came to life late in the first half for its only score to give them a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Roethlisberger threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jesse James on third down with 45 seconds left. It ended a 7-play, 91-yard drive in which Antonio Brown caught three passes for 80 yards.
The Steelers' best play on offense in the first half was nearly intercepted. From his 11, Roethlisberger threw toward Brown over the middle. Linebacker Joe Schobert got a hand on the ball, but it tipped right to Brown at the 28. He weaved through traffic for a 50-yard gain and a first down at Cleveland's 39.
Their other touchdown came on a blocked punt.
It was 7-7 after the first quarter.
The Browns started the game looking very much like the Browns we've all come to love. They went backwards on their first series as Stephon Tuitt chased the rookie quarterback, Kizer, out of the pocket on first down for a one-yard gain then tackled Isaiah Crowell on a sweep for a 9-yard loss.
That ultimately brought the Browns to punt from the 16. Tyler Matakevich broke through the protection, blocked Britton Colquitt's punt into the end zone, where Anthony Chickillo recovered for a touchdown and a 7-0 Steelers lead.
It was their first blocked punt for a touchdown in 19 years.
When the Steelers offense finally took the field after two series by Cleveland, the looked more like the Browns offense in their first try. Roethlisberger threw all passes, five short ones around two holding penalties by his receivers and they punted on fourth-and-16.
That Cleveland offense that looked poorly on the first two series, drove 68 yards for a touchdown on its third. They needed 12 plays and converted three third downs, the final one a 21-yard pass interference penalty on safety Sean Davis that put the ball at the three.
Kizer ran a sneak up the middle for the one-yard touchdown to tie it.
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