CLEVELAND — Myles Garrett had a memorable first meeting with Ben Roethlisberger.
So did Denzel Ward.
The Browns’ No. 1 and No. 4 overall draft picks the last two years did just about all they could to deliver a victory Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. They hounded Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl quarterback into three of his five turnovers but had to settle for a 21-21 tie in the season opener when the offense couldn’t capitalize.
“Great players can take over a game no matter what position they are,” said Garrett, the second-year defensive end. “It wasn’t just me. It was a bunch of guys on my team who were there, picking up slack when I wasn’t getting there and all those big picks by Denzel. Everybody was getting after it.”
Garrett had talked about taking down Roethlisberger since the night he was drafted. He didn’t face him as a rookie but made up for lost time with two sacks, including a strip-sack in the fourth quarter.
“It was nice to finally meet him and properly introduce myself before the game and during the game,” Garrett said. “I am being the person they got from the draft. I am finally healthy, and I am just trying to be the guy who can make the plays when we need them.”
He also forced a James Conner fumble that set up a touchdown and started the rally from 14 points down midway through the fourth quarter.
“I told you guys he’s going to be a key contributor in this game and he was,” receiver Josh Gordon said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more from him. He did his job and I think he helped set the precedent for the defense as well as the offense to keep going out there and keep trying.”
Roethlisberger has owned the Browns since they didn’t draft him in 2004. He is 21-2-1 as a starter against them, routinely exposing their many weaknesses and making something out of nothing when the play breaks down.
When he tried to do that in the first quarter in the red zone, Ward dived in front of a pass intended for Antonio Brown and started his career with an interception. Ward, the cornerback from Nordonia and Ohio State, added a second pick in the second quarter on a ball that went through the hands of tight end Jesse James and returned it 26 yards.
At 21 years, 135 days, Ward is the fourth-youngest player in NFL history with two interceptions in a game. He joins Clarence Scott in 1971 as the only Browns rookies with two interceptions in their NFL debut.
“It’s crazy. He has all of the talent in the world,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “He was out there making a lot of plays. If he can keep it up, he can be a special player.”
If they gave game balls after a tie, Garrett and Ward would be first in line. But they weren’t perfect.
Ward, who added six tackles and a pass defensed, was in coverage on Roethlisberger’s 22-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Brown. Ward was right on him and had an arm in Brown’s midsection but couldn’t stop the completion.
“I just didn’t get the ball out,” he said. “It was a great catch by him, and next time I have to get the ball out.”
“He came back and kept fighting, kept competing,” coach Hue Jackson said. “Denzel is made out of the right stuff. He made plays there at the end so that is good to see, but we can’t let them in the end zone on the one.”
Garrett’s missteps were a pair of pivotal penalties.
On third-and-7 from the 8-yard line in the second quarter, Garrett pressured Roethlisberger after a scramble and hit him after he threw incomplete. Garrett didn’t take another step after Roethlisberger’s release but landed on him with his weight, which is a point of emphasis for officials this season.
He was called for roughing the passer, and the Steelers scored a touchdown on the next play.
“I do not get that,” Jackson said of the call.
“It wasn’t a very sensical explanation,” Garrett said of his talk with officials. “I don’t know how from that angle I can hit him and put him into the ground, so you don’t want to tackle him.
“I’ll try not to hit him too hard next time so I don’t get a flag. Honestly, I thought that was a perfectly legal hit.”
Jackson took issue with several of the 11 penalties for 87 yards, but the final one was indisputable. Garrett blocked Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey in the back on linebacker Joe Schobert’s fumble return in the final minute of overtime. Instead of having the ball on the 12-yard line for a 30-yard field goal, the Browns had it on the 24 and Zane Gonzalez’s blocked kick came from 43 yards.
“Tried to get more on his side or on his front, so that’s my fault,” Garrett said.
He was exhausted after an all-out effort from start to finish. He came up gimpy near the end but stayed in after being tackled by an offensive lineman, who was called for holding.
“Uh, I mean, it’s all right,” Garrett said of his right ankle.
“A healthy Myles Garrett means a ton to this organization and football team,” Jackson said. “He just has to do it week in and week out and be this player every week. If he will do that, good things will happen on defense.”