CLEVELAND _ Wide receiver Antonio Brown had just two catches for 12 yards through the first 15 minutes of the 2017 season.
But by game's end on Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, the relationship Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger share was as obvious as it had been decisive in the Steelers' 21-18, season-opening victory over the Browns.
"A lotta days of work, a lotta labor, a lot of sacrifice," Brown acknowledged after what turned out to be an 11-catch, 182-yard afternoon. "I'm grateful we made it come alive in this stadium."
Brown and Roethlisberger found their rhythm on a seven-play, 91-yard drive late in the second quarter for the Steelers' first offensive touchdown of the season, a 4-yard pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James that gave the Steelers a 14-7 lead with 45 seconds left in the first half. Working out of a four-wide receivers, one-tight end set, Brown made catches of 50, 11 and 19 yards on consecutive snaps as the Steelers' advanced from their 11-yard line to the Browns' 9.
In the third quarter, a 41-yard pass interference penalty against cornerback Jamar Taylor on a deep ball to Brown set the Steelers up at the Browns' 18. A second Roethlisberger-to-James touchdown pass four snaps later helped push the Steelers' lead to 21-10.
But it was with the game on the line when Roethlisberger and Brown perhaps shined their brightest.
The Browns had crept to within 21-18 and the Steelers faced a second-and-12 from their 18 with 2:47 left in regulation. Roethlisberger held the ball initially, drifted left and eventually heaved it down the field. Brown went up between cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun and cornerback Jason McCourty (wide receiver Martavis Bryant was also in the area) and came down with a 38-yard reception.
"It's not our first rodeo," Roethlisberger explained. "I see 'A.B.' going, I'm going to take that shot. I have all the trust in the world in him, he has it in me.
"I don't think there are any two guys that work together more than him and I do. It's fun to watch him play, to be on the same team with him."
As always, Brown drew a crowd of defenders all afternoon.
He came up with his 11 receptions on 11 targets.
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns.
"A lotta mixes, a lotta doubles (double-coverage) rolling to my side," he said. "But when we had our chance, we took our chances.
"Great start today."
HEYWARD ON TUITT: Defensive end Stephon Tuitt's afternoon was finished after he ran running back Isaiah Crowell out of bounds for a 9-yard loss on Cleveland's second offensive snap.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuitt was to be evaluate for a biceps injury.
"I'm not too worried but you never know," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "(Tuitt) seemed like he was in good spirits but you never know when you get to those MRIs, we'll see from there.
"I didn't really see it when it happened. He said it happened on the play when he strung out the running back. I didn't think anything of it, but when he didn't come back I got a little concerned. We really didn't get a chance to talk about it."
WATT HE'LL REMEMBER:** Outside linebacker T.J. Watt had two sacks and an interception, but the Steelers' No. 1 pick said a play he didn't make was likely the one that will stand out from his NFL debut.
"I'll probably remember missing that first sack that I should have had over any of those plays," Watt said. "But any time you can get a pick and change the possession for the team it's huge, so I'm pretty happy with that play."
Watt spent much of his afternoon going against offensive tackle Joe Thomas, a six-time first-team All-Pro.
"It was a lot," Watt said. "There were some things I did well and some things that need improvement and that's why we have film to look at."
HE SAID IT: "What did we have as a team, 150 yards in penalties? That's obviously not going to be conducive when we're playing better football teams, but we'll take the win. It was a hostile environment like we knew we were going to have. Both teams were kind of talkin', this has been going on for a couple months now. We knew today was the day that the talk had to stop and somebody was going to have to play. I'm just thankful that we made the most plays today." _ Safety Mike Mitchell on the Steelers' 13 penalties for 144 yards.