Chris Crocker's interception should have provided Cleveland with a spark.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
PITTSBURGH -- Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, can be classified as a hostile environment.
Therefore, it was imperative that the Cleveland Browns negate that disadvantage with a game-changing play to lessen the crowd noise and prevent the thousands of towel-waving fans from bearing down on them.
Browns safety Chris Crocker made that type of play.
On a day when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't making many mistakes, Crocker and the Browns took advantage of a timely break.
Crocker intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown with 11:30 remaining in the first quarter to tie the score 7-7.
"Any big play will spark the team," Crocker said.
Or at least the Browns thought.
Just when it seemed Crocker's interception would provide the Browns with a needed boost, it ended up being one of their few highlights -- on either side of the ball.
"We pride ourselves and we think, when we play the way we're capable of playing, we can have a very good defense," said Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, whose defense yielded 401 yards to the Steelers (231 to Roethlisberger).
"For us to go out there and perform like this is disappointing."
The interception happened when Roethlisberger's pass went through Antwaan Randle El's fingertips and into Crocker's hands. Crocker stayed on his feet despite being off-balance to score the Browns' only first-half touchdown.
"I was determined to score and get into the end zone any way I can," Crocker said.
Roethlisberger added, "You have to be able to bounce back because if you dwell on something for too long, it's just going to bring you down."
The Steelers backed up Roethlisberger's words on their ensuing possession, scoring the go-ahead points on his 6-yard run.
"He stayed within his game and did exactly what he was told to do," Crocker said. "He managed the game really well."
With Pittsburgh's 23-year-old rookie quarterback behind center, the Browns figured the odds were in their favor.
"You want to put a rookie in a situation where he has to throw the ball and put the game on his shoulders," McCutcheon said.
Trouble was for the Browns, Roethlisberger made plays and had plenty of help from his teammates.
"He was a little more mobile than I thought," McCutcheon said. "He's a big quarterback [6-foot-5, 241 pounds], and most of the time bigger quarterbacks are not going to run. He's a strong guy, so it was hard to get him down, and he was able to find open receivers."
After Pittsburgh responded to Crocker's interception, Cleveland's beleaguered defense struggled to shake Roethlisberger's rhythm.
"Being a good defense is about being consistent, and we weren't consistent today," McCutcheon said.
"This was a setback, but we have a lot of football left," he added. "We have to learn from our mistakes and bounce back."