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Ben Roethlisberger: Browns to surprise a lot of people

Ben Roethlisberger is the winningest quarterback in Cleveland since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999, which makes him uniquely qualified to analyze a Browns roster that has changed forms so many times before Roethlisberger's eyes over the years.

So when he passes on some genuine praise, it should be taken with a certain amount of gravity.

"That team is going to surprise a lot of people," Roethlisberger said Wednesday, via Bleacher Report. "I'm glad we played them in Week 1."

The Browns still lost, 21-18, but seemed closer to matching strengths with a legitimate, playoff-bound NFL team than they have since the stunning 2014 first-place run under former head coach Mike Pettine. That year was the last time Cleveland beat the Steelers, winning a home game at FirstEnergy Stadium, 31-10.

But even during the Pettine era, there was a certain flimsiness to the Browns -- something not necessarily the fault of either Pettine or then-general manager Ray Farmer, but just the cause and effect of years and years of rapid regime changes.

On Sunday, the Browns were one early gaffe -- a blocked punt deep in their own territory, recovered for a touchdown -- away from legitimately stunning the NFL world. They beat a team with Le'Veon Bell in time of possession, 31:10 to 28:50. They ran for more yards and more yards per rushing attempt. They committed significantly fewer penalties.

All of these were reverse hallmarks of old Browns teams, which, year after year, had to come out of halftime prepared to hurl the ball 40 times in hopes of roping a comeback.

Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown, Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta may be another two years away from churning out a playoff season -- by then, the rest of the more established AFC North will have aged to the point where an opening could emerge.

But like the Jacksonville Jaguars, they turned out a performance on Sunday that distanced the team from the more infantile stages of their rebuilds in years past. Of course, I remember talking to a Jaguars player back in 2015 after their win over the Buffalo Bills in London who thought the most troubling part of the Jaguars' turnaround was how they were treated by the football world -- less equals and more like freshmen who were doing an admirable, plucky job upon being called up to varsity. Hence, the arrival of Tom Coughlin and the end of feeling comfortable with progress.

The goal for Cleveland now is to avoid that middle ground. Having Roethlisberger say some nice things is great. Beating him, or maybe the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore, is something else altogether.

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