- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
PITTSBURGH – Johnny Manziel might want to get comfortable in a baseball cap.
Brian Hoyer isn't going anywhere. Not yet anyway.
The journeyman who held off the Heisman Trophy winner to grab the starting quarterback job in Cleveland lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-27 on Sunday, but he might have won over a few of his critics in the process.
Hoyer and the Browns roared back from a 24-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 27 before the Steelers survived on Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal at the final gun.
"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.
While first-year coach Mike Pettine said simply "we failed," he also didn't panic after watching Hoyer and Cleveland's depleted offense stumble in the first half. Instead, he ordered the offense to push the tempo. Hoyer and backup running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell responded with 20 minutes of brilliance as the Browns scored four times to draw even.
"We'll definitely move forward from this with some confidence in certain areas, but we also know there are a lot of things we need to correct," he said.
Quarterback, however, might not be one of them. Pettine answered flatly "no" when pressed on whether he considered going to Manziel to start the second half.
"The way the game went we just never felt the need for him," Pettine said.
What the Browns could use though, is a way to beat Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers star passed for 365 yards and a score and hit Markus Wheaton twice during the final drive to bring Suisham within range to win it.
"When (Suisham) lines up to kick it, I was on the sideline like, 'This was why we have him,'" Roethlisberger said. "There was never a doubt he was going to make it."
There never is when Roethlisberger faces Cleveland. Pittsburgh is 18-1 against the Browns with Roethlisberger under center.
Still on a day when the Steelers rolled up 490 yards they needed every last second of the clock to avoid losing their fourth straight season opener.
"We can't apologize for the way we win," Roethlisberger said. "We just have to win games."
Something the Browns have been trying — and failing — to do for most of the last 15 years. They drafted Manziel with hopes of reviving the franchise. Though Manziel's day is coming, but Hoyer nearly started a legend of his own on a day that began with what looked like another episode of "Same Old Browns."
The lowlight came in the middle of the second quarter when Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown raced up field with a punt return. When the Pro Bowler came upon Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning, Brown tried to leap over Lanning only to end up smacking Lanning in the facemask with his cleat.
"When I saw him dip his hips I just stood up on him," Lanning said. "I guess he kicked me in the face."
The play drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on Brown — perhaps the first ever by a punt returner — and comic laughter from the sun-splashed crowd delighting in what appeared to be just another mauling in a series full of them.
The Browns somehow pulled themselves up despite playing without wide receiver Josh Gordon (suspension), running back Ben Tate (who left in the second quarter with a knee injury) and tight end Jordan Cameron (who left in the second half with shoulder trouble).
Instead it was Hoyer and a couple of unknowns behind him who led the way. West darted for 100 yards and Crowell scored a pair of touchdowns as the Browns tied the game when Hoyer scrambled left and found Benjamin in the corner of the end zone.
After sometimes frantic play for the game's first 50 minutes, both teams squandered chances to take control. Cleveland's last gasp came with a first down its own 20 with 1:53 to go. A sack, an incompletion and an ill-advised screen gave the Steelers the ball back at the Pittsburgh 43 with 47 seconds remaining.
Just enough time, it turns out, for Roethlisberger to complete his 34th game-winning drive.
"I've never been a part of a game like that," Crowell said. "If we got the win it would have been a lot better."
NOTES: Cleveland ran for 183 yards, its highest total since running for 230 yards against New England in 2010. ... Cameron caught two passes for 47 yards before aggravating a shoulder injury that bothered him during camp. ... The Browns host New Orleans next week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL