Steelers knock off Browns, 34-21

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

PITTSBURGH (AP) - This must be a discouraging thought for opposing defensive coordinators: The Pittsburgh Steelers are beating teams not only with their No. 1, 2 and 3 quarterbacks, but also with their No. 4 quarterback.

On a night the Steelers lost another QB to injury and won another game - their fourth in a row, tying them with idle Cincinnati for the AFC North lead - the biggest pass of a 34-21 victory Sunday night over rival Cleveland wasn't thrown by Ben Roethlisberger.

Or Charlie Batch. Or Tommy Maddox.

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Antwaan Randle El, a star quarterback at Indiana who wishes he could throw more passes in the NFL, put the Steelers (7-2) up by 17 points early in the third quarter with a 51-yard TD pass to Hines Ward on a reverse. It was the kind of deep, accurate pass a receiver isn't supposed to be able to throw, but then Randle El isn't a normal receiver.

Randle El also had a 12-yard run after lining up under center, no doubt confusing a Browns defense that was forced to defend against three Steelers quarterbacks and didn't do a very good job against any of them.

‘‘He can throw it,'' said coach Bill Cowher, who has lost two quarterbacks - but no games - in three weeks. ‘‘We've got some multitalented guys.''

A lot of them play quarterback.

The week before, the Steelers beat Green Bay 20-10 despite a shaky game by Batch, who was limited to 65 yards passing in his first start in four years.

Batch was much better against the Browns (3-6), going 13 of 19 for 150 yards and running for a touchdown late in the first half before leaving with a broken right hand.

Batch will miss at least two games, but Roethlisberger could play again Sunday in Baltimore after missing two games following arthroscopic right knee surgery. If not, Tommy Maddox will play again after losing his backup's job to Batch by throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in a 23-17 overtime loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 16.

Despite that one bad game, the Steelers have gotten mostly excellent play all season from their three quarterbacks - OK, make that their four quarterbacks. Considering how many NFL teams are scrambling to find one reliable quarterback, the Steelers' QB depth must be the envy of many teams.

‘‘I'll go with whomever we have,'' Cowher said. ‘‘The next person on this team has to step up. That's how our football team works.''

Batch was hurt striking his hand on a helmet as he completed a 15-yard pass to Ward in the second quarter - coincidentally, Ward's 538th career reception, breaking the team career record set by Hall of Famer John Stallworth. Ward finished with eight catches for 124 yards.

But when the Steelers unexpectedly got the ball back at the Browns' 40 with 1:19 left in the half on Joey Porter's interception of a Trent Dilfer pass, Batch shook off the pain to complete five passes. He scored himself from the 1 on a hurried-up play with 6 seconds left and the Steelers out of timeouts.

The Steelers also scored in the opening two minutes of the second half to make it 24-7 on the Randle El-to-Ward pass, a variation of Randle El's 43-yard run on a reverse against Green Bay the week before.

‘‘That's what we worked in, to try to make it like the previous reverse we ran,'' Randle El said. ‘‘It worked in practice and it worked out great.''

Being down 17 on the road against a rival that now has beaten them in 10 of 11 times was too much for a Browns offense that went into the game averaging 14.1 points. The Browns didn't score again until the final five minutes, when they got two meaningless scores. Cleveland lost its fourth in five games.

‘‘I'm not going to say Pittsburgh is the best team in the league, but they played well,'' Dilfer said. ‘‘You've just to keep moving along. You can't feel sorry for yourself.''

Andra Davis knows what the reaction to the Browns' latest loss to Pittsburgh will be.

‘‘They're going to write bad stuff about us,'' he said. ‘‘About how they dominated or whatever. We can't get caught up in that. It doesn't matter what anybody thinks of us.'' Notes: Porter wore a Browns jersey in the locker room, apparently as a motivational tool. … The Browns are 6-29 in Pittsburgh since the 1970 NFL merger, counting two playoff losses. … Cowher is 16-5 against the Browns. … The Steelers have won 21 of 23 regular season games, a stretch unmatched even by their four Super Bowl championship teams in the 1970s. … The Browns had two turnovers, giving them 14 in six games. … Reflecting Batch's much-improved play, Pittsburgh was 6-of-13 on third down conversions after going 0-for-8 in Green Bay.