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CLEVELAND – Brian Hoyer slapped every hand he could, making contact with all those wanting to touch one of their own — the guy becoming a bigger hero by the day.
And as Cleveland's quarterback ran from the field after defeating the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, Hoyer celebrated with Browns fans who were sitting behind a banner that read: "This Is Hoyer Country."
No doubt about that.
"Pretty cool," Hoyer said.
Making big plays and no mistakes, Hoyer passed for 217 yards and for once didn't have to sweat out the final minutes as the Browns romped 31-10 over Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers on Sunday.
Hoyer threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron in the first half and improved to 6-2 as Cleveland's starter. The Browns (3-2) — with a big assist from their much maligned defense — beat the Steelers for just the third time in 23 games. Cleveland hadn't beaten Pittsburgh so soundly since a 51-0 shutout in 1989.
Like almost every kid in Northeast Ohio, Hoyer was raised to despise the Steelers (3-3) so he understands the importance of what a win over Pittsburgh means to Cleveland.
"To beat those guys that way feels good," Hoyer said. "The last time the Browns beat the Steelers, I was the backup quarterback for the Steelers. I know how much it means for these players to beat Pittsburgh. They haven't had great luck against them for the past however many years. To beat those guys and the fashion we did it, feels really good."
Ben Tate had two rushing TDs and rookie Isaiah Crowell added another as the Browns opened a 21-3 lead in the first half and rolled one week after staging the largest comeback in NFL history by a road team.
For Roethlisberger, two wins each season over Cleveland has almost been a given. However, he lost for just the second time in 20 games against the Browns as he couldn't get Pittsburgh's offense moving against a defense that entered the game ranked 31st in the league.
"I didn't play well enough," said Roethlisberger, who went 21 of 42 for 228 yards and one late TD. "I missed some throws. I didn't make some good calls at times. I hold myself to a higher standard and I've got to be better."
The Steelers fell into last place in the AFC North.
Cleveland's win was tempered by the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who broke his left leg in the first half and is likely done for the season.
Browns tackle Joe Thomas blinked back tears as Mack, his close friend and fellow offensive lineman, was carted off.
"We have played every snap together for six years and you are finally getting the best of Pittsburgh, he deserved to be out there with us," Thomas said. "It was hard to go on. It's so difficult to lose such a tremendous player like that."
The win further legitimized the Browns' season and Hoyer's standing with his teammates and the Cleveland fans who were skeptical when he was named the starter over rookie Johnny Manziel.
Hoyer finished 8 of 17 and still has just one interception in 149 attempts.
"He made some big throws," coach Mike Pettine said.
The Browns just may be for real, and here are five other things we learned as they bounced the Steelers into the division's basement:
MISSING MACK: As Mack was being treated on the field before being taken on a cart to the locker room, several Steelers offered their condolences.
Then, all of Mack's Cleveland teammates came onto the field to wish him well, knowing they might be playing without him the rest of the year. He put on a brave front, giving the fans a thumbs-up as he was driven off.
"He's going to be cheering us on," said John Greco, who slid over from right guard to take Mack's spot. "He's going to come back faster than anyone expects him to, and he'll be back stronger than ever."
TURNING POINT: Leading 3-0, the Steelers were about to go up by 6 when holder Brad Wing couldn't handle the snap from center on a 35-yard field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham. The Browns pounced on the blown chance, scoring a touchdown and taking control.
"You could really feel a swing there," Pettine said. "That was huge for us."
BEN'S TAKE: Roethlisberger was succinct following the game in summing up the state of the Steelers.
"We're 3-3," he said. "Our record says we're an average football team. It's still early but we've got to get some things fixed."
HURTIN' STEEL CURTAIN: Pittsburgh was without two starters coming in and then had three others injured.
Nose tackle Steve McLendon (sprained shoulder), DE Brett Keisel (sprained knee) and S Mike Mitchell (sprained knee) all went out. Coach Mike Tomlin said the team will have more information Monday.
EASY SCHEDULE: Cleveland's next three opponents — Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay — are a combined 1-16.
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