The Cleveland Browns didn't need Johnny Manziel to put an unlikely scare into the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Beating their longtime nemesis however remains another matter entirely, as long as Ben Roethlisberger remains on the other side of the field.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers frittered away a 24-point lead only to escape 30-27 on Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal at the final gun.
"We get the ball in Ben's hands with a little bit of time ... bada bing," joked Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel.
And what about the 29-minute implosion that allowed Brian Hoyer to spearhead a frantic rally by the leftover remains of Cleveland's injury and suspension ravaged offense while the most famous backup quarterback in football watched in a baseball cap?
"Bada boom," Keisel deadpanned.
The Steelers could afford to laugh. They always seem to against Cleveland. Roethlisberger improved to 18-1 against the Browns after passing for 365 yards with a touchdown and an interception, including two huge completions to Markus Wheaton in the final 47 seconds to set up Suisham's winning kick.
Roethlisberger audibled out of his original play call on first down at the Cleveland 44, switching to a play that provided Wheaton with a better matchup. The second-year wide receiver — who missed most of last season with various injuries — found himself wide open in the middle of the field.
"Ben made it easy for me," Wheaton said. "It worked out real well."
It might work out for the Browns, too, eventually. Manziel didn't play because he wasn't needed after Hoyer passed for 230 yards and a score while guiding an emotional comeback that fell just short.
"I told those guys at the end of the game that I'll take that team to the end of the Earth if we're going to fight like that," Hoyer said.
Here's what we learned after the Steelers beat the Browns for the 11th straight year at home.
HOYER CAN PLAY: The journeyman did his best to block out the noise after the Browns drafted Manziel in May. Hoyer beat out the Heisman Trophy winner for the starting job in training camp and should hold onto it for a bit after completing 19 of 31 passes on a day he played most of the second half without running back Ben Tate or top tight end Jordan Cameron, who both left early with injuries.
MANZIEL WASN'T IN THE MIX: Cleveland coach Mike Pettine didn't panic when Cleveland fell behind 27-3 at the half. He also didn't consider handing the ball to Manziel, either. Pettine answered "no" when pressed on if he thought about giving Manziel a look.
"The way the game went we just never felt the need for him," Pettine said.
Manziel instead spent the first afternoon of his first NFL regular season game watching in a baseball cap then trotting off the field alone after the Browns dropped their 10th consecutive season opener.
BIG PLAY STEELERS: Roethlisberger said repeatedly during camp he expects to have the most explosive offense of his decade-long career at his disposal. Sounds about right. Pittsburgh rolled up 490 yards, its highest total in five seasons, behind 197 total yards from running back Le'Veon Bell and 116 yards receiving from Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.
THE KIDS CAN RUN: The Browns believed the key to staying close in Pittsburgh would be the play of Tate, signed in the offseason to stabilize the backfield. Tate left in the second quarter with a knee injury but Cleveland hardly suffered. Rookie running back Terrance West ran for 100 yards and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell scored twice as the Browns put up 24 points in a little over a quarter to tie the game.
KICK STAND: The Steelers have beaten up on the Browns since Cleveland returned to the league in 1999. Antonio Brown provided a very symbolic reminder during a memorable punt return. Brown was in the clear and heading for the end zone in the second quarter when he found himself all alone with Browns punter Spencer Lanning. Rather than follow his blockers left toward a sure touchdown, Brown tried to leap over Lanning.
It didn't go so well. Rather than soaring, Brown ended up smacking Lanning in the facemask with his cleat. The call drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on Brown and a postgame apology
"I tried to get over him," Brown said. "There was no intent to hurt him. It was just a bad outcome of a play."
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