CLEVELAND — A season premiere is supposed to grab the audience’s attention with new ideas and imaginative plotlines. The Browns didn’t get the memo. They haven’t for years.
With fans in a fever pitch for the start of a new season, the Browns trotted out the same stale rerun Sunday. Sloppy play, big mistakes, no offense.
Steelers 34, Browns 7.
Cue the laugh track.
CBS could’ve saved time and money by showing the 43-0 1999 opener or the 41-0 2005 Christmas Eve debacle. Each embarrassment came against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, who won their record eighth straight in the most lopsided rivalry this side of the Globetrotters-Generals.
Rookie coach Mike Tomlin earned his first win, as Pittsburgh got its 14th in 15 meetings and seventh straight on the lakefront.
General manager Phil Savage renewed interest in the Browns by adding seven new starters in the hiatus. Coach Romeo Crennel’s team needed four plays to curb the enthusiasm.
After an uninspired three-and-out capped by a sack, punter Paul Ernster dropped a perfect snap and scrambled to get off a 15-yard punt. A holding penalty on Jerome Harrison — one of four Browns infractions on the play — gave the Steelers the ball at the 22-yard line.
Four plays later, Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward behind rookie Eric Wright for a 5-yard touchdown.
“It did kinda set the tone,” safety Sean Jones said.
Ernster was signed off the street Saturday because Dave Zastudil has a muscle strain in his back. Zastudil had hoped to play all week, but when he kicked for the first time Saturday he was still in pain. Ernster, who punted for Denver last year, was shaky all day.
“No excuses. I just dropped it,” he said.
With the tone set for the season by a guy on the team for less than 24 hours, the Browns refused to rally. A Charlie Frye interception led to a field goal and a Jamal Lewis fumble set up a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Browns trailed 17-0 before the end of the first quarter.
“There’s no explanation that I can give you for it,” Crennel said. “We felt like going in we were in a positive frame of mind, felt we had improved as a team. You saw the results.”
“We made too many mistakes,” said receiver Braylon Edwards, who lost a fumble. “We’ve practiced too hard, we’ve come too far and we’re definitely a way better team than we showed today."
The Browns talked all preseason and all week about the importance of a good start. They play all three division opponents at home within the first month and must show improvement after going 0-6 inside the division last year and 1-11 in Crennel’s two years.
They flopped in their first try. They threw two interceptions, lost three fumbles, allowed six sacks, rushed for 46 yards and never threatened in the first half.
They also re-energized the quarterback controversy.
Halfway through the second quarter Frye was on the sideline, Derek Anderson was in the huddle and the fans were chanting for rookie Brady Quinn. Frye went 4-for-10 for 34 yards with an interception a 10.0 rating. He looked uncomfortable and indecisive and took five sacks, most after decent protection.
“We really weren’t doing anything on offense,” he said.
Anderson wasn’t much better. He was 13-for-28 for 184 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 65.2 rating. Quinn didn’t play, and Crennel said he hadn’t made a decision about the starter for next week vs. Cincinnati.
“We need the quarterback position to play better,” said Crennel, who added he didn’t consider playing Quinn. “Because he’s a kid and the game was out of reach. What am I going to do, throw him to the dogs? I didn’t feel at the time that I should do that to him.”
The performances of the offense and special teams put the defense in a compromising position from the start. The Steelers’ first-quarter scoring drives started at Cleveland’s 22-, 17- and 40-yard lines.
The poor play infected the defense in the second half. Pittsburgh marched 71 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter and finished with 206 rushing yards, 109 by Willie Parker. Roethlisberger was 12-for-23 for 161 yards, a career-high four touchdowns and a 114.3 rating. He was victimized by several drops.
“He did a great job,” Tomlin said. “Great starts are always important.”
The Browns know that but are trying to convince themselves it’s only one game.
“We have to hang together, pull together, try to get better,” Crennel said.
That would be something new for Browns fans to watch.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.