NEW YORK (AP) — It was a big return for Big Ben, who looked as though he barely missed a beat.
Ben Roethlisberger, cheered loudly during his first game in 9½ months, threw three touchdown passes in his return from his four-game suspension and led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
“One thing about him: When you look into his eyes, you always know you have a chance to win ballgames,” said Hines Ward, whose 8-yard TD catch ended a 96-yard drive that put Pittsburgh up 14-3 late in the third quarter. “And everybody just follows.”
Roethlisberger’s first regular-season game since last season clearly excited Steelers fans, who filled Heinz Field beyond its capacity. It was a special game for the quarterback, too, as he realized while traveling to the stadium.
“Amazing,” Roethlisberger said of the loud ovation he received during pregame introductions. “I got a little bit of tears in my eyes. To hear a cheer like that was truly something special.”
Except for about 20 protesters outside the stadium, there was no sign of the anger and hostility numerous fans expressed after a Georgia college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a bar in March. Roethlisberger has strongly denied the allegations but, despite not being charged, he did not fight the NFL’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The Steelers (4-1), beating Cleveland for the 13th time in 14 games, moved into first place in the AFC North as Baltimore (4-2) lost to New England 23-20 in overtime.
Cleveland’s Colt McCoy (23 of 33, 281 yards, five sacks) didn’t look overwhelmed in his first NFL start, but he played with a depleted cast after hits by James Harrison sidelined wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi with head injuries during the second quarter.
“We had our hands full with those guys,” McCoy said. “They’re really fast, they’re really good.”
Deion Branch had a happy return to New England, sparking a comeback from a 10-point deficit to a 23-20 overtime win over the Ravens. He capped that with two key catches that set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime.
When Randy Moss was traded to Minnesota on Oct. 6, fans worried that the Patriots would struggle without their only deep threat. But Branch gave them plenty of reasons to forget those concerns and the team’s embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens in the first round last season.
“We’ve known each other for a long time, so I think the chemistry’s there,” Tom Brady said. “It will be there.”
Branch was MVP of the 2005 Super Bowl when he caught 11 passes for 133 yards. His nine catches in this one matched Moss’ total in his four games with New England (4-1) this season.
“Not perfect, but he did a lot of good, like he always did,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He got open and caught some balls. Let’s not make it too complicated.”
The Patriots (4-1) won their eighth straight game after a bye. The Ravens’ three-game winning streak ended.
Eagles 31, Falcons 17
At Philadelphia, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson each scored two touchdowns and Philadelphia snapped Atlanta’s four-game winning streak.
A head-on collision in the second quarter cost Philadelphia star receiver Jackson, and Atlanta lost cornerback Dunta Robinson, both with head injuries. Jackson dropped a pass when hit by Robinson, who led with his head and hit Jackson in the helmet. Robinson was flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver.
Philadelphia (4-2) ensured it would stay atop the NFC East, while the Falcons fell to 4-2.
Jets 24, Broncos 20
At Denver, LaDainian Tomlinson scored his second touchdown from 2 yards out with 73 seconds left after a pass interference flag helped New York rally and earn the NFL’s best record at 5-1.
On fourth-and-6 from the Denver 48, Denver safety Renaldo Hill and Jets receiver Santonio Holmes jostled near the goal line and the ball fell incomplete as the crowd went crazy. But field judge Gary Cavaletto threw his yellow flag and called Hill for pass interference.
A bad snap by J.D. Walton at midfield was recovered by cornerback Dwight Lowery with 35 seconds left as the Jets sealed the win over the Broncos (2-4).
Vikings 24, Cowboys 21
At Minneapolis, Percy Harvin’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown gave Minnesota a spark to start the second half, and the Vikings overcame another uneven game by Brett Favre in a victory over Dallas.
Playing with a bad elbow and the specter of a scandal hovering over him, Favre — who is to meet with NFL security Tuesday about the alleged racy messages he sent to a former New York Jets employee — took a bunch of big hits and finished 14 for 19 for 118 yards, one TD and one turnover.
The Vikings (2-3) won this matchup of preseason NFC favorites, though even in defeat the Cowboys (1-4) are not out of contention in the mediocre conference.
Colts 27, Redskins 24
At Landover, Md., Peyton Manning threw for 307 yards, including scoring throws of 57 yards to Pierre Garcon and 5 yards to Austin Collie in Indianapolis’ victory over Washington.
Joseph Addai ran for 128 yards and a touchdown for the Colts before leaving with a shoulder injury. Indianapolis amassed 469 total yards as it improved to 4-2 to maintain a share of the lead atop the AFC South.
The Colts won despite losing three fumbles in the second half, keeping the Redskins in the game.
Donovan McNabb went 29 for 45 for 246 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for the Redskins, who fell to 3-3.
Giants 28, Lions 20
At East Rutherford, N.J., Eli Manning threw two touchdown passes and the New York Giants sent error-prone Detroit to an NFL record-tying 24th straight road loss.
Safety Deon Grant preserved the third straight win for the Giants (4-2) by forcing and recovering a fumble by Lions receiver Nate Burleson at the Giants 42 with about five minutes to go and New York ahead by four points.
Lions quarterback Shaun Hill broke his left arm in the first half, and was replaced by Drew Stanton. Also, Detroit linebacker Zack Follett was hospitalized after a violent helmet-to-helmet hit while covering a fourth-quarter kickoff return. Coach Jim Schwartz said Follett was conscious and has movement in his limbs.
Rams 20, Chargers 17
At St. Louis, James Hall, Chris Long and Larry Grant had two sacks apiece and the Rams stuffed the NFL’s top offense for its third straight win at home.
Sam Bradford threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Danario Alexander, making his NFL debut, to help build a 14-point cushion in the first half. Steven Jackson, who finished with 109 yards, also scored and had several key late carries for the Rams (3-3).
The Rams, who last won three in a row at home in 2004, entered the season with a 14-game losing streak.
San Diego (2-4) lost tight end Antonio Gates with a left ankle injury in the first half.
Texans 35, Chiefs 31
At Houston, Matt Schaub threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson with 28 seconds left to give the Texans a stunning fourth-quarter comeback victory.
The Texans (4-2) trailed 31-21 with just over 7 minutes left after Thomas Jones’ 11-yard TD run.
Schaub found Johnson across the middle for a 15-yard gain, then hit him down the sideline for 31 more to the Chiefs 24. Five plays later, Schaub eluded the rush and found Johnson open in the back of the end zone. Johnson, still nursing a sprained right ankle, caught eight passes for 138 yards.
Matt Cassel threw three TD passes for Kansas City (3-2).
Saints 31, Buccaneers 6
At Tampa, Fla., Drew Brees threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns for New Orleans.
The Super Bowl champions rebounded from a mistake-filled road loss, scoring on their first three possessions and getting an unexpected lift from rookie running back Chris Ivory, who rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries.
The Saints (4-2) amassed 476 yards total offense and weren’t forced to punt until early in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay (3-2) was held scoreless until Josh Freeman led a long fourth-quarter TD drive aided by a pair of personal foul penalties for a late hit on the quarterback.
Dolphins 23, Packers 20 OT
At Green Bay, Wis., Dan Carpenter kicked a 44-yard field goal with 9:01 left in overtime to lift Miami.
It was the second straight overtime loss for the injury-riddled Packers (3-3), who lost at Washington last week. And it was a special teams-driven victory for the Dolphins (3-2), who had a bye week to think about a loss to New England that resulted in the firing of their special teams coach.
Aaron Rodgers started for Green Bay one week after sustaining a concussion, and scored on a sneak with 13 seconds left in regulation.
Seahawks 23, Bears 20
At Chicago, Matt Hasselbeck threw for a season-best 242 yards and a touchdown and Seattle’s defense sacked Jay Cutler six times.
Cutler was in trouble much of the game, and completed just 17 of 39 for 290 yards against the Seahawks (3-2). He missed last week’s game with a concussion after being sacked nine times by the Giants the previous week.
Devin Hester ran a punt back 89 yards in the fourth quarter for the Bears (4-2), equaling an NFL record with his 13th kick return for a touchdown.
49ers 17, Raiders 9
At San Francisco, Alex Smith threw second-half touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis and the 49ers finally won their first game, beating Oakland in a sloppy, penalty-filled game.
Smith overcame a slow start against Oakland (2-4) to go 16 of 33 for 196 yards in his first turnover-free game of 2010, though San Francisco still committed 11 penalties for 143 yards. The Niners, whose 1-5 start is the franchise’s worst since Bill Walsh’s first team lost its initial seven games in 1979, denied Oakland its first back-to-back wins since 2008.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.