CLEVELAND (AP) – The Browns didn’t need a comeback this time. For once, they built a big lead and held on.
Brian Hoyer passed for 217 yards and pulled off a rarity for a Cleveland quarterback, leading the Browns to a 31-10 rout over Ben Roethlisberger and the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Hoyer threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron and improved to 6-2 as Cleveland’s starter as the surprising Browns (3-2) beat the Steelers for just the third time in 23 games. Cleveland hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh so badly since a 51-0 shutout in 1989.
Ben Tate had two rushing TDs and rookie Isaiah Crowell added another one as the Browns opened a 21-3 lead in the first half and rolled to the easy win one week after staging the largest comeback in NFL history by a road team.
Roethlisberger suffered just his second loss in 20 games against Cleveland. The Steelers (3-3) never found a rhythm on offense and their defense, missing two starters, gave up too many big plays.
The victory legitimizes the Browns’ turnaround and Hoyer as the team’s unquestioned leader. There were some doubts about Hoyer when the season began, and with rookie Johnny Manziel on the roster, it was assumed Cleveland would eventually undergo yet another change at quarterback.
Hoyer has put that talk to rest and made the dramatic Browns, whose first four games were decided by eight points, one of the league’s unexpected winners.
He finished 8 of 17 and still has just one interception in 149 attempts.
Roethlisberger wasn’t as efficient as he usually is against Cleveland. He went 21 of 42 for 228 yards and one late TD, was sacked twice and threw one pick. It was his first loss to the Browns since Dec. 10, 2009.
Tate’s 1-yard run with 12:47 left put the Browns ahead 31-3.
Really, it was over long before that.
Cleveland led 21-3 at halftime, a 180-degree switch from Week 1 when the Steelers built a 27-3 lead and gave up 24 unanswered points before winning on a last-second field goal.
The Browns rammed the ball down Pittsburgh’s throat to take a commanding lead late in the second quarter.
Tate’s 8-yard TD run capped an 85-yard drive soured by the loss of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who was carted off the field with an apparent serious injury to his lower left leg.
Blocking on a running play, Mack got his legs tangled in a pile of players and never got up. He laid face-down in the grass for several minutes before several Steelers — and all of his teammates — came over to console him. Mack, who signed a five-year, $42 million contract in March, waved to the crowd as he was driven to the locker room.
Mack came in riding a streak of 5,189 consecutive snaps without missing a play, anchoring an offensive line that has been Cleveland’s strength this season.
Right guard John Greco slid over and took Mack’s spot, and Paul McQuistan came off the bench. The Browns didn’t miss a beat without Mack as Tate put them up by 18 with his TD burst.
Hoyer’s TD pass to Cameron gave the Browns a 14-3 lead in the second.
On 3rd-and-1, Hoyer faked a handoff that got Steelers safety Troy Polamalu to take a step toward the line before lofting a perfect pass to Cameron, who got behind Cortez Allen and went in untouched.
The Browns capitalized on a Pittsburgh miscue to take a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
With the Steelers leading 3-0, Pittsburgh punter Brad Wing botched the hold on a 35-yard field goal attempt, double-clutching as he tried to place the ball. The Browns took over on downs and quickly went to work.
Hoyer, rolling left, threw back across the field to a wide-open Cameron for 42 yards to the Pittsburgh 5. Crowell scored on the next play.
Before the drive, the Browns had managed minus-8 yards on two possessions.