CLEVELAND -- On the strength of big plays from wide receiver Antonio Brown, clutch passes from Ben Roethlisberger and consistent scoring over the first three quarters, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns, 21-18, in the 2017 regular-season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium.
After a sluggish start from the offense, Roethlisberger completed 24 of his 36 attempts for 263 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Eleven of Roethlisberger’s 24 completions found Brown, and he turned those catches into a game-best 182 yards, including a gain of 50 yards on a tipped pass off the hand of Browns linebacker Joe Schobert and a 38-yarder in a crowd of Cleveland defenders that extended the final drive of the game.
Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer completed 20 of his 30 throws for 222 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a rushing score to his credit. Additionally, Kizer finished with one rushing touchdown and 17 yards, which were second only to 33 yards from running back Isaiah Crowell.
Kizer was sacked seven times in his NFL regular-season debut.
The Browns were backed up in their own end zone on a punt attempt after the first drive of the game, and the Steelers more than took advantage of the situation in the shadows of Cleveland’s end zone.
Facing a fourth-and-19 situation from their own 16-yard line after a scramble from Kizer, negative nine-yard rush from Crowell and a false start penalty on 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns called on Britton Colquitt to punt the ball, but the attempt was blocked by linebacker Tyler Matakevich and recovered by fellow linebacker Anthony Chickillo in the end zone for a touchdown.
Following the extra point, the Steelers held a 7-0 lead over the Browns with 12:44 left in the first quarter and without their offense having taken a snap.
The Browns’ offense struggled to move the ball on their first two drives of the game, but on the third, everything clicked, and they drew even with the Steelers, 7-7, when Kizer rushed for a touchdown with 22 seconds to play in the first quarter.
On second and goal from the Pittsburgh one-yard line, Kizer took the snap, ran around left tackle and muscled his way into the end zone for his first career touchdown. Fellow rookie Zane Gonzalez added the extra point to knot the score.
After spending much of the game struggling to convert first downs, the Steelers got rolling late in the second quarter and mounted a go-ahead touchdown drive with 45 seconds to play in the first half against the Browns.
On third-and-goal from the Browns’ four-yard line, Roethlisberger threaded the needle through a host of Cleveland defenders to tight end Jesse James along the back line of the end zone, and the extra-point try gave the Steelers a 14-7 lead.
The Steelers took a two-score lead over the Browns when Roethlisberger slipped a two-yard touchdown pass to James over the middle of the field with 5:37 to play in the third quarter. The second Roethlisberger-to-James touchdown combination of the day gave the Steelers a 21-10 lead over the Browns.
Of the 75 yards the Steelers gained on their six plays from scrimmage on the drive, 41 came on a pass interference penalty against Browns cornerback Jamar Taylor on a throw intended for Brown.
The Browns cut the Steelers’ lead down to three points, 21-18, on Kizer’s first career touchdown pass and a two-point conversion run from Crowell with 3:36 to play in the fourth quarter of the 2017 regular-season opener.
On fourth-and-two from the Steelers’ three-yard line, Kizer took a shotgun snap after a shift overloaded the right side of the defense with four receivers, and then, fired a slant pass to wide receiver Corey Coleman on the left side of the formation for the touchdown.
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