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Antonio Brown accounts for Steelers offense in win vs. Browns

Joe Rutter
| Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, 4:24 p.m.

CLEVELAND — Antonio Brown on Sunday showed the value of coming to work every day.

While two skill players returning from extended absences looked lost in the Steelers offense, it was the star receiver who never missed an offseason workout and just one training-camp practice who helped them avoid an embarrassing season-opening loss.

Brown made a series of table-setting big plays for the Steelers in their 21-18 too-close-for-comfort win over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The All-Pro receiver caught 11 passes for 182 yards and accounted for all but 108 net yards produced by an offense that stagnated throughout the game, rarely resembling the high-flying group that is supposed to fuel the team's Super Bowl aspirations.

Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hooked up on eight completions of 10 yards or longer, including catches of 38 and 50 yards. Brown also drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty that set up a second-half touchdown.

Not a bad way to start making good on a five-year, $73 million contract that Brown received at the outset of the offseason.

"That's what he does," guard Ramon Foster said. "That's why he's one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the world. He's that guy. Him and Ben work together like none other."

Tight end Jesse James caught two touchdown passes, and the special teams contributed the other score on a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone by Anthony Chickillo to stave off a loss against a team that finished 1-15 last year.

The defense, playing almost the entire game without an injured Stephon Tuitt, produced seven sacks. Rookie first-rounder T.J. Watt had two of the takedowns and an interception inside the red zone that thwarted a second-half drive. Chickillo, starting in place of an injured Bud Dupree, also had two sacks.

"We still have a lot of room to grow," Brown said.

Brown said his big game was a byproduct of the hundreds of passes he's caught from Roethlisberger in the past seven-plus seasons — and that includes practice. Brown missed just one during training camp and that was because of the birth of his son.

"A lot of days of work, a lot of labor, a lot of sacrifices," Brown said, rattling off the reasons he and Roethlisberger click as a tandem. "I'm grateful we could make it come alive in this stadium."

Take Brown out of the equation and the Steelers didn't have much to show offensively from their star skill players. Running back Le'Veon Bell, after missing the entire offseason program and all of the preseason, had just 47 yards from scrimmage. Bell, who rushed for 1,268 yards last year and led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage when he was named team MVP, had just 32 yards rushing on 10 carries, a total that was boosted by a 15-yard gain late in the fourth quarter. Bell also caught only three of six passes targeted to him.

"I didn't feel rusty," Bell said. "Obviously, I was getting in the mix of the game. It's just that, I have to get in the mix of the game, and I didn't feel like I did that today. I didn't feel like I was involved."

Wide receiver Martavis Bryant, meantime, caught just two of six targets for 14 yards in his first game back after serving a yearlong suspension.

Coach Mike Tomlin attributed the sluggish performance to penalties. The Steelers had 13 infractions for 144 yards.

"We'll get back in the lab and work hard in those areas," Tomlin said. "I really thought that was the story of the game in terms of us, with our lack of execution. I thought our offensive drives got stopped because of penalties. I thought our defensive drives got extended because of penalties, and when you're doing that, you're going to keep people in the game."

Held to 66 yards and three first downs (one via penalty) over the first four series, the Steelers put together a touchdown drive late in the first half to take the lead for good, 14-7.

Roethlisberger directed a 91-yard march, putting the ball in the hands of Brown, who had catches on three consecutive plays totaling 80 yards. The big play was a pass that was tipped by linebacker Joe Schonert. The ball deflected to Brown, who turned the catch into a weaving 50-yard gain. This set up Roethlisberger's 4-yard touchdown pass to James.

"It's not our first rodeo," said Roethlisberger, who recorded his 11th win in Cleveland, the most of any quarterback at FirstEnergy Stadium. "I see AB going, I'm going to take that shot. I've got all the trust in the world in him, and he's got it in me. I don't think there are any two guys that work together like him and I do."

In the third quarter, Brown drew a 41-yard pass interference penalty on a deep ball down the right sideline that set up the Steelers at the Cleveland 18. James caught a screen on third-and-2 from the Cleveland 2 for his second touchdown and 21-10 advantage.

After the Browns pulled within three points with 3:40 remaining, Brown had one more sensational catch up in his arsenal. He made a leaping 38-yard catch in double coverage with 2:28 left that helped the Steelers run out the clock.

The Browns challenged the catch after seeing the ball had popped free of Brown's grasp after he hit the ground.

"I thought he did not have total control down to the ground," Browns coach Hue Jackson said.

Brown, though, rarely loses control – as Jackson and the Browns discovered Sunday.

"I heard someone earlier say, 'I'm glad he's on our side,'" Foster said. "I agree."

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown breaks into the clear in the second quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown breaks into the clear in the second quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a touchdown pass as the Browns' Joe Schobert defends during the second quarter on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a touchdown pass as the Browns' Joe Schobert defends during the second quarter on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Tyler Matakevich blocks a punt by the Browns' Britton Colquitt in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Anthony Chickillo recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Tyler Matakevich blocks a punt by the Browns' Britton Colquitt in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Anthony Chickillo recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown stiff-arms the Browns' Jamar Taylor on a long gain during the second quarter on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown stiff-arms the Browns' Jamar Taylor on a long gain during the second quarter on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Cam Heyward celebrates a sack of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer during the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Cam Heyward celebrates a sack of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer during the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a first down pass between Browns defenders late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a first down pass between Browns defenders late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a first down pass in front of the Browns' Jabrill Peppers during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a first down pass in front of the Browns' Jabrill Peppers during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer celebrates his first quarter touchdown against the Steelers Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer celebrates his first quarter touchdown against the Steelers Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a touchdown pass, as the Browns' Joe Schobert defends during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James catches a touchdown pass, as the Browns' Joe Schobert defends during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell looks to cut back on the Browns' Derrick Kindred for first-down yardage in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell looks to cut back on the Browns' Derrick Kindred for first-down yardage in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown spins between the Browns' Joe Schubert and Jamar Taylor (21) in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown spins between the Browns' Joe Schubert and Jamar Taylor (21) in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Artie Burns and J.J. Wilcox hit the Browns' Corey Coleman as he crosses the goal line in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Artie Burns and J.J. Wilcox hit the Browns' Corey Coleman as he crosses the goal line in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rears back to throw a late fourth-quarter pass to Antonio Brown as the Browns' Emmanuel Ogbah pressures him Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rears back to throw a late fourth-quarter pass to Antonio Brown as the Browns' Emmanuel Ogbah pressures him Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown pulls in a late first-down catch over the Browns' Briean Bodd-Calhoun (20) and Jason McCourty in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown pulls in a late first-down catch over the Browns' Briean Bodd-Calhoun (20) and Jason McCourty in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell cuts back on the Browns' Derrick Kindred for first-down yardage in the fourth quarter  Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell cuts back on the Browns' Derrick Kindred for first-down yardage in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell runs through the tackle attempt by the Browns' Emmanuel Ogbah on the way to first-down yardage in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell runs through the tackle attempt by the Browns' Emmanuel Ogbah on the way to first-down yardage in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers tight end Jesse James scores during the second quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James scores during the second quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown reacts after a long run and catch to help set up a Steelers' touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown reacts after a long run and catch to help set up a Steelers' touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers tight end Jesse James pulls in a second-quarter touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers tight end Jesse James pulls in a second-quarter touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Antonio Brown celebrates with Jesse James after James' touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Antonio Brown celebrates with Jesse James after James' touchdown against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Anthony Chickillo celebrates recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead over the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Anthony Chickillo celebrates recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead over the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown stiff-arms the Browns' Jabrill Peppers in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 at First Energy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown stiff-arms the Browns' Jabrill Peppers in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 at First Energy Stadium Cleveland Ohio.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a first-down pass between Browns defenders late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown catches a first-down pass between Browns defenders late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant is gang-tackled by Browns defenders during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant is gang-tackled by Browns defenders during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers' Terrell Watson celebrates with Anthony Chickillo after Chickillo's recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Browns in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Terrell Watson celebrates with Anthony Chickillo after Chickillo's recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown against the Browns in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Steelers take the field against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers take the field against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers  guard David DeCastro celebrates with Jesse James after James' touchdown against the Browns in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers guard David DeCastro celebrates with Jesse James after James' touchdown against the Browns in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt rushes Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt rushes Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden break up a pass intended for the Browns' Seth DeValve in the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden break up a pass intended for the Browns' Seth DeValve in the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell takes the field before a game against the Browns Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell takes the field before a game against the Browns Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave celebrates his sack of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers nose tackle Javon Hargrave celebrates his sack of Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the fourth quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt pressures Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt pressures Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward sacks Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward sacks Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin reacts after the officals drop a flag after watching a replay on the big screen during the third quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin reacts after the officals drop a flag after watching a replay on the big screen during the third quarter against the Browns on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt sacks Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt sacks Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt pressures Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt pressures Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is gang tackled by Browns defenders during the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is gang tackled by Browns defenders during the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown picks up a first down during the second quarter against the Browns Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown picks up a first down during the second quarter against the Browns Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden breaks up a pass intended for the Browns' Seth DeValve during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden breaks up a pass intended for the Browns' Seth DeValve during the second quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
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