PITTSBURGH (AP) It felt, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor insists, like a victory.
Even if Sunday’s 30-27 escape against the Cleveland Browns hardly looked like one during a maddening second half in which the Steelers let a 24-point lead evaporate and nearly let the Browns win in Pittsburgh for the first time in a decade.
Taylor isn’t caught up in style points. Sorry, there’s no extra credit for blowouts.
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”I came in, woke up with a smile, looked out at Pittsburgh and everybody was happy we came out with a `W’,” Taylor said. ”People probably didn’t like the way we came out with a `W’ but we came out with a `W.’ So nobody has really nothing to talk about except for the small things, and we’ll correct them.”
That should keep Taylor and the rest of the Steelers defense pretty busy heading into Thursday night’s game at Baltimore (0-1). After clamping down on the Browns during a dominant first half, it all disappeared when Cleveland started pushing the tempo and began pushing the Steelers around.
The Browns rolled up 288 of their 389 total yards in the second half, scored on four straight possessions to tie the game and had the ball twice with a chance to take the lead in the final five minutes.
Oh, and Cleveland did it without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, plus running back Ben Tate and tight end Jordan Cameron both slowed by injuries.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin downplayed the impact of the pace of play when the Browns went to the no-huddle.
”There was no reason for us to be fatigued in any way,” Tomlin said. ”We’re not looking for excuses, we have to play better.”
Pittsburgh expected some bumps on a defense awash in new faces. Ryan Shazier became the first rookie linebacker for the Steelers in an opener in 13 years. New safety Mike Mitchell was playing for his third team in as many seasons while nose tackle Cam Thomas appeared overmatched in his Pittsburgh debut.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can abide by the mistakes if his players react quickly to fix them. Several times, the Steelers were rushing substitutes onto the field or attempting to figure out what package they were in as the Browns ran to the line of scrimmage to get another play off. Cleveland averaged 6.1 yards per carry, most of the damage coming from rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.
”We were where we were supposed to be,” Tomlin said. ”Based on some of the results of those snaps I can’t say that we were ready.”
It’s a trend that began during an abysmal performance by the starters in a preseason loss to hyperkinetic Philadelphia and continued throughout the second half against the Browns.
The Steelers know teams will keep pushing the pace until they prove they can stop it.
”It’s going to come back,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. ”This league it’s a copycat league. We’ve got to find a way to shut that down or teams are going to come back to us.”
It’s not the only area where Pittsburgh needs to get better in a hurry. As dynamic as the offense looked while racing to a 27-3 lead it was just as stagnant when trying to protect its advantage.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for a career-best 278 yards in the first half but finished with just 365, 31 coming on two completions to Markus Wheaton in the final 40 seconds that put the Steelers within range to win it on a field goal.
”I don’t know what happened,” Wheaton said. ”It could be the changes (Cleveland) made. Could be us coming out flat. Could be a combination of the two.”
Ultimately, however, it didn’t matter. Roethlisberger improved to 18-1 against the Browns and the Steelers avoided losing their opener for the fourth straight year. If they can come through again in Baltimore – where they’ve won just once in the last five years – then last season’s miserable 0-4 start is a distant memory. So will Sunday’s miserable second half.
”We’re not going to let (Sunday) define us by any stretch,” Tomlin said. ”We’re going to need a better result if we want to get a victory on Thursday night.”
NOTES: Rookie RB Dri Archer (ankle) and S Shamarko Thomas (leg) are questionable for Thursday. … WRs Lance Moore (groin) and Martavis Bryant (shoulder) are also questionable.
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