NFL Preview - Pittsburgh (3-2) at Cleveland (2-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - While playing from behind is never a desired position, the Cleveland Browns pulled off the largest road comeback in NFL history last weekend.
It was a deficit they nearly came back from in a Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Browns hope for a better start and another strong finish this Sunday when they return home to FirstEnergy Stadium for their second matchup of the season with the Steelers.
Cleveland found itself down 25 points with 2:44 left in the first half on Sunday in Tennessee, but found the end zone before halftime and then managed a third-quarter field goal while shutting out the Titans in the frame.
Special teams then helped fuel the comeback as Tank Carder blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety, and Brian Hoyer threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to rally Cleveland to a 29-28 win.
Hoyer's second scoring throw of the frame went to Travis Benjamin with 1:09 left to play and completed the third-largest comeback in NFL history. San Francisco came back from 28 points in 1980 and Buffalo rallied from 26 down in 1997, but both of those came at home.
"I think our fans are excited. Hopefully none of them are in the ER," Hoyer deadpanned.
Hoyer threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns in total, matching a career high, while getting intercepted once, while Ben Tate picked up a career-high 123 yards on 22 carries. Tate was seeing his first action since suffering a knee injury in Week 1 versus Pittsburgh.
"I did tell them after the game they've got to stop doing it. I have an EKG scheduled," stated Browns head coach Mike Pettine.
Pettine's Browns evened their record at 2-2 and that includes a 30-27 setback in Pittsburgh to open the season. The Steelers led 27-3 at half before the Browns responded with 24 straight points to tie the game.
However, Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers their fourth straight win over the Browns.
Pittsburgh also has won 14 of its last 17 in Cleveland and will try to sweep the season series for the 11th time since 2000.
The Steelers had trouble finishing a Week 4 contest against Tampa Bay, blowing a 24-17 fourth-quarter lead and losing 27-24 to fall to 2-2. However, they rebounded with a solid win over Jacksonville this past Sunday as Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass and Brice McCain returned an interception 22 yards for a score.
"I liked the way we finished, especially when you consider that we didn't do a good job of it last week and it cost us the game," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Roethlisberger, who has an 18-1 career record against the Browns as a starter, was 26-of-36 for 273 yards, throwing to 11 different receivers in the win. Antonio Brown caught five passes for 84 yards, Michael Palmer hauled in a touchdown pass and Heath Miller had three catches for 46 yards.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Some better starts could have the Browns much better than 2-2. They are outscoring their opponents 67-30 in the second half this season and own the fewest turnovers in the NFL with just one.
Pettine made the decision to go with Hoyer over high draft pick Johnny Manziel and it has paid off as Cleveland has scored at least 21 points in each game this season. The franchise hasn't done so in five straight since 2007.
Hoyer is now 5-2 as a starter for Cleveland with three two-minute game-winning drives. He has thrown six touchdown passes to just one pick.
"He is smart. He plays within himself. He is going to be efficient. He is going to move the offense and take care of the football," Tomlin said of Hoyer, who dressed for two games with Pittsburgh in 2012 but did not play. "We talked about him in that vein in preparation for the opener. I think his play over the last month has verified that. He is making really good decisions."
The return of Tate should also help Hoyer and the Browns, who have flashed three quality running backs this season. Isaiah Crowell has three rushing touchdowns on the year, scoring twice versus Pittsburgh, and Terrance West leads all NFL rookies with 235 rushing yards to go along with a pair of scores.
Pittsburgh has managed to hold each of its last three opponents under 100 yards rushing, the first such three-game stretch for the club since late in the 2012 season.
Cleveland corners Buster Skrine and Joe Haden, who is battling a hip injury, figure to have their hands full with Brown and head a secondary that is allowing 269.3 yards per game. If Haden can't play, rookie Justin Gilbert could get the start.
"Whoever is out there I just have to be my best," noted Brown. "Regardless of who the opponent (is) I just have to sharpen my tools and make sure I'm on my game."
Brown has been a consistent threat this season, ranking third in the NFL with 511 receiving yards while leading the AFC with 34 catches. His effort versus Jacksonville extended his NFL record streak of at least five catches and 50 receiving yards to 21 straight games.
Brown had five receptions for 116 yards versus the Browns in Week 1, including a 35-yard scoring grab.
Pittsburgh's Cortez Allen grabbed his second interception of the season last week and second in two games, becoming the first Steeler since Ike Taylor in 2011 to have picks in back-to-back games.
"His arrow has been pointing up the last couple of weeks. He is touching a lot of balls. He is catching some of them," Tomlin said of Allen.
No Steeler has recorded an interception in three straight games since safety Troy Polamalu did so in four consecutive contests in 2008.
Defensive lineman Phil Taylor is out for Cleveland following arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday.
Both of these teams can move the ball, but the Browns have not been getting it done on defense. They rank 31st in the NFL, allowing 421.8 YPG.
That is bad news for Cleveland, as Pittsburgh has dominated this series as of late and is fourth on offense currently at 404.0 YPG. The Steelers have struggled finishing off drives, though, scoring just 22.8 points per game to rank 18th.
Cleveland pulled off an incredible feat last weekend, but falling behind against Pittsburgh is another animal.
"People talk about the historic comeback. I said all that means is that we played really bad for a half and really well for a half. So we have some issues there to get cleaned up," said Pettine.
The Browns nearly pulled it off once, but the Steelers should be ready this time around.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Steelers 24, Browns 20
10/12 07:37:09 ET