PITTSBURGH - So the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, just like they were supposed to.
But there was a lot more "oh no" than "ho hum."
It took some impressive performances to overcome adversity (some of it self-inflicted) for the Steelers to prevail over the Browns 14-3 at frosty Heinz Field Thursday night.
What appeared to be a blah matchup for the NFL Network instead turned into a compelling reality show that held interest for the full three hours.
There was no surprise ending, but plenty of drama along the way.
Most of it started in the second quarter when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's left ankle was crunched between two tacklers.
Roethlisberger spent the rest of the night limping, and so did the Steelers' offense when it came to scoring points.
It was painful to watch, and not just because every step seemed to be hurting Roethlisberger like a toothache.
The Steelers had a chance to put the game away, but ran into a stubborn goal line stand from the Browns. Rashard Mendenhall was turned away four times, and the offensive line could never clear enough space for him.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he never considered kicking a field goal for a seven-point lead, and he said he never considered substituting Isaac Redman for Mendenhall.
Given Roethlisberger's mobility issues, there weren't a lot of options other than trying to power rush the ball across the goal line.
The Browns knew it and met the challenge.
The Browns seemed to be set up for a chance to win the game until William Gay made an artful catch that would have made a receiver proud in the end zone, an interception that gave the beleaguered offense one more shot with a 7-3 lead and just over three minutes remaining.
That opportunity turned into gold when Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown, who juked his way down the Browns' sideline for a 79-yard scoring play.
The Steelers celebrated, but it seemed more like a sense of relief that they'd finally shaken the pesky Browns.
The Browns aren't good enough to win a game like Thursday's, but they aren't bad enough to get blown out.
That's why Roethlisberger came back for the second half after being relieved by Charlie Batch at the end of the first half.
Roethlisberger on one leg is a better proposition than a back-up player.
"The doctor said he was OK to go. He wanted to go," Tomlin said.
So he came back with a mummy's worth of tape on his left ankle and gutted his way through the rest of the game on a cold night that had to make every movement painful.
Roethlisberger has been accused of embellishing injuries to gain sympathy, but there didn't appear to anything less than genuine about this.
It was difficult for him to plant and throw, and even backpedaling to hand the ball off was less than routine.
The Steelers had their own ineptitude to overcome: James Farrior gave the Browns an extra 15 yards by hitting quarterback Colt McCoy out of bounds, James Harrison provided extra yardage with a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on McCoy, and hapless offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu was whistled for three penalties.
"In may instances we negated some big plays with penalties," Tomlin understated.
It was a tough game for players other than Roethlisberger. Center Maurkice Pouncey was knocked out by a high ankle sprain. Troy Polamalu tweaked a hamstring. Ziggy Hood had a groin injury.
The Steelers have 10 days to recover until they play a tough opponent in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 19.
They could clinch a playoff spot this weekend if other results fall into place.
They still have a chance to win the division and get some home games in the postseason.
All of that is possible because they found a way to win against the Browns, even with a quarterback operating at less than 100 percent.
"It was a winning performance," Tomlin said of Roethlisberger's work.
With an unusual script.
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