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Steelers roll over Browns to open Tomlin Era

As the Steelers huddled around him, Mike Tomlin was presented with a game ball following his first game as Pittsburgh's coach. The Cleveland Browns handed him win No.

CLEVELAND -- As the Steelers huddled around him, Mike Tomlin was presented with a game ball following his first game as Pittsburgh's coach.

The Cleveland Browns handed him win No. 1 much earlier.

In their first game in 15 years without iconic coach Bill Cowher stalking the sideline, the Steelers blitzed, battered and bullied their way to a 34-7 win over the hapless Browns, whose season opener couldn't have gone much worse.

Ben Roethlisberger threw a career-high four touchdown passes as Pittsburgh built an early 17-0 lead and rolled for Tomlin, the easy-going 35-year-old former defensive coordinator who shares Cowher's passion - not his volcanic personality.

"This win is not about me," Tomlin said. "This is the story of the 2007 Steelers."

And it began the way other seasons have, with a romp over the Browns, whose complete breakdown on an early punt set the tone for another embarrassing day of turnovers, sacks and ineptitude.

Tomlin did his best to hide his emotions, but he was clearly moved by the Steelers' outpouring of respect following the game.

"You can see the excitement in his eyes," Roethlisberger said. "He really doesn't get rah-rah. As a player you like that. He's calm. You don't have to worry about getting yelled at or spit on or getting stuff thrown at you."

Willie Parker rushed for 109 yards as Pittsburgh started the Tomlin Era with the kind of bruising victory that typified Cowher's tenure in the Steel City. Cowher went 21-5 against the Browns, but Tomlin did something even his iron-jawed predecessor couldn't: beat Cleveland in his first meeting.

Cowher, who left the Steelers in January to become a TV analyst, lost his first game against the Browns after replacing Hall of Famer Chuck Noll in 1992.

Pittsburgh dominated in all phases, forcing five turnovers and recording six sacks.

"We were expecting a lot more," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "We dug ourselves a tremendous hole, and in the NFL, when you dig yourself a hole, it's hard to get out. We're not good enough to overcome a hole as deep as we dug."

Crennel recently received an unsolicited vote of confidence from general manager Phil Savage. But all the back slaps in the world won't help the third-year coach unless he wins.

By the end of the third, the Steelers led 31-7 and disgusted Browns fans fled as a steady rain further dampened what they had hoped would be a better beginning for a team that has had just one winning season since 1999.

That year, the Steelers stomped the Browns 43-0 in Cleveland's expansion return, a thumping that led to rookie quarterback Tim Couch being handed the starter's job before he or the team were ready.

The Browns, who have lost eight in a row and 14 of 15 to Pittsburgh, could be faced with a similar decision.

Crennel benched starting quarterback Charlie Frye in the first half. Frye went 4-for-10 for 34 yards, threw an interception and held the ball way too long while being flushed from the pocket.

Derek Anderson came in and didn't do much better, but he did throw a 1-yard TD pass to Lawrence Vickers to avoid a shutout.

And while their team was being dismantled, Browns fans periodically broke into chants for rookie Brady Quinn, who was designated the team's No. 3 quarterback but could soon be elevated to No. 1.

Crennel said he would have to watch game film before deciding on his starter for next week against Cincinnati.

The Steelers have no such worries. Roethlisberger, determined to put a sub-par 2006 behind him, went 12-of-23 for 161 yards. He threw two TD passes in the first quarter and two more in the third for the Steelers, who started last season 2-6 and missed the playoffs one year after winning the Super Bowl.

"There wasn't much I didn't like," Tomlin said. "I guess a few penalties. We could have played the game a little cleaner."

The Browns imploded shortly after kickoff.

On their first fourth down, newly signed Cleveland punter Paul Ernster let the snap slip through his hands before scrambling to get off a 15-yarder.

Cleveland was whistled for four infractions - two holds, an illegal formation and having a man downfield - on the play and the Steelers scored moments later when Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a 5-yarder.

The romp was on.

"I'd like to think we got the bad one out of our system," Browns wide receiver Joe Jurevicius.

Notes: Quinn was designated as Cleveland's third quarterback. Crennel said he never considered bringing in the first-round pick. "What was I going to do, put him in there and throw him to the dogs?" ... Jeff Reed kicked two field goals for Pittsburgh. ... Browns Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson, enshrined last month, served as an honorary captain. At halftime, Hickerson, whose health has been declining in recent years, was presented with his Hall of Fame ring.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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