Ben Roethlisberger was convinced he was going to be a Cleveland Brown. He got lucky.
Call it his first escaped sack.
Pittsburgh’s prodigious quarterback grew up in Ohio, and as the 2004 draft neared and after a workout for Cleveland, he thought the Browns would select him in the first round. Instead, Cleveland traded up and took tight end Kellen Winslow with the No. 6 overall pick.
“I am kind of over that,” Big Ben joked this week as the Steelers prepared to face the rival Browns, a team Roethlisberger has dominated like no other during his NFL career.
The Browns haven’t recovered.
Roethlisberger, perhaps more than any other player, any failed draft or any miserable season, best symbolizes Cleveland’s general ineptitude since returning to the league in 1999. While the Steelers have thrived with the sturdy Roethlisberger behind center and won two Super Bowls, the Browns have gone through 26 starting quarterbacks in 17 years and still haven’t solved their QB riddle.
Consider that since 2004, the Steelers are 130-71 in the regular season and have won five division titles, three AFC championships and those two Super Bowls. The Browns are 61-141 and have finished last in the AFC North 10 times.
“I mean I wasn’t here when they made the mistake of not drafting him, obviously,” said Browns left tackle and perennial Pro Bowl lock Joe Thomas. “But it would’ve been great if we did.”
Adding insult, Roethlisberger is 20-2 — 19-2 in games he’s started — against the Browns (0-10), who are off to the worst start in their 66-year history and will be facing a snarling Steelers team that has lost four straight and is desperate for a win.
“This is still a huge rival for me, especially me personally,” Roethlisberger said. “It is Ohio. It is the Browns. I thought I was going to go to the Browns. For me, this is AFC North football. This is a huge rivalry for us.”
The numbers say otherwise. The Steelers are 28-6 against the Browns since ’99 and their towel-waving fans are certain to overrun FirstEnergy Stadium today, which has been an annual event on the shores of Lake Erie.
The Steelers, though, haven’t been themselves of late as a 4-1 start has been erased with only the third four-game losing streak in coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure. They can’t afford many more losses, let alone one to the browbeaten Browns.
The Browns have paraded quarterback after quarterback onto the field, so many in fact that Roethlisberger wouldn’t even attempt trying to name them all.
“No chance,” he said on a conference call before playing along and rattling off “a buddy of mine” Bruce Gradkowski, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III and Colt McCoy.
“There have been a whole bunch of them that I have faced,” he said. “I would love to look at the numbers of which quarterback I actually played the most because I feel like it was almost a different one every time.”
For the record, Derek Anderson (4) faced him more than any other Browns QB.
The Steelers have been dynamic at home since offensive coordinator Todd Haley came on board in 2012, but have struggled replicating that success on the road. Not even Roethlisberger is immune. He’s thrown 10 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions outside Heinz Field since the start of 2015 and is under .500 (15-18) in road starts since Haley joined the staff, compared to 24-9 at home during that same span.
HUE BETTER BELIEVE IT
The Browns may be down for now, but coach Hue Jackson said it won’t be for long.
The losing has been difficult on Jackson, who said he sometimes wakes up wondering ‘’What am I doing?” But as hard as it is for him to lose games to division contemporaries such as Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Baltimore’s John Harbaugh and Tomlin, Jackson is banking on flipping the script.
“They better enjoy it now, because it is not going to be like this very long,” Jackson said, “I promise you that.”
While do-everything wide receiver Antonio Brown is on pace for another 120-catch season, he’s getting little help. While Brown currently has an NFL-high 69 receptions, no other Pittsburgh wide receiver has more than 23. Injuries to Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey haven’t helped, but the inability for anyone other than running back Le’Veon Bell to emerge as a consistent receiving threat has created trouble in recent weeks.