The Steelers showed in their season opener why so much attention, so much time, was paid to the no-huddle during the offseason.
By the Cleveland Browns, that is.
The Steelers worked on the no-huddle from the opening day of offseason workouts — polishing it, perfecting it and getting it grooved and habitized, in the words of the late Chuck Noll, whose initials the players are wearing on their helmets this season.
But perhaps the Steelers should have worked more on defending the no-huddle. Their inability to stop a Browns no-huddle operated with devastating effectiveness in the second half by a journeyman quarterback — no Johnny Manziel to be found — and rookie backups nearly resulted in the largest blown lead in franchise history.
In a game that seemed too good to be true in the first half and too bad to believe in the second half, the Steelers came up with an entirely new outcome: the devastating win.
Perhaps never has a victory over the Browns, who remain winless in Pittsburgh since 2003, felt more like a loss. And the mood certainly didn't feel celebratory after the Steelers squandered a 24-point halftime lead before winning 30-27 on Sunday at Heinz Field.
“It would have been devastating (to lose),” rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “But, to me, any loss is devastating.”
Perhaps no opening-day loss in the Steelers' 82-season history would have been as crushing, not even the 51-0 blowout to the Browns in 1989, the previous time they visited Pittsburgh to start a season.
“There's no such thing as a bad win,” Shazier said.
Perhaps there is.
By the middle of the second quarter, the Steelers already had five plays of 30 yards or more — only 19 fewer than they had all of last season. LeGarrette Blount blew through a hole as wide as Casey Hampton on a 7-yard touchdown run, Ben Roethlisberger improvised a beautifully executed 35-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell (109 yards rushing, 88 receiving) ran 38 yards for another score.
Right about then, with his offense outgaining Cleveland, 364-101, Todd Haley was getting fitted for his NFL assistant coach of the year award ring.
But in a second-half turnaround that didn't seem possible given the opponent, the opposing quarterback (former Steelers No. 3 Brian Hoyer) or the circumstances, the Browns staged one of the great comebacks in their history. And in NFL history, too.
“I said, ‘We've got to keep pushing it, keep pushing it. But after they started coming back, we said, ‘We've got to come out of here with a win,' ” Bell said.
Not only did the Browns score 24 consecutive points to tie it at 27-27, but they also did it with their best receiver (tight end Jordan Cameron) and running back (Ben Tate) injured and out.
Hoyer executed a small repertoire of plays designed around several basic running and passing plays to score three touchdowns and kick a field goal on Cleveland's first four drives of the second half.
“They pretty much play the same (3-4) defense we do, so they know where to put the ball,” outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said.
The Browns did it mostly behind Hoyer (173 yards in second half), rookie running backs Terrance West (100 yards, 91 in the second) and Isaiah Crowell (32 yards, two touchdowns) and former Cincinnati Bengals slot receiver Andrew Hawkins (eight catches, 87 yards). Crowell was so lightly regarded that he wasn't even drafted out of Alabama State.
“I felt like we had them. They were tired, and we were obviously moving the ball very well,” Hoyer said.
But the Browns passed up a possible game-winning, 53-yard field-goal attempt on their final possession to punt. The Steelers subsequently mounted their only second-half scoring drive to win it on Shaun Suisham's 41-yard, last-play field goal.
“Really, there's nothing to say,” Suisham said as he exited the locker room before reporters were admitted.
The Steelers certainly know what they'll be talking about during their short work week that begins Monday.
Given how easily the Eagles ran up a 31-7 preseason lead with their no-huddle and how the Browns outscored them 24-3 in the second half with their version, the Steelers realize opponents likely will keep running it until they stop it.
“Let them. We don't care. We'll be ready,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said.
“We're going to get it taken care of, and we'll be ready for the next time,” Shazier said.
Count on that being Thursday night in Baltimore.
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