CLEVELAND (AP) – With a flick of his wrist, Ben Roethlisberger saved the Pittsburgh Steelers from a season-crushing loss.

Roethlisberger shoveled a 4-yard touchdown pass to Willie Parker with 32 seconds left, rallying the Steelers to a 24-20 win over the Cleveland Browns, who were minutes away from kicking the defending Super Bowl champions into the AFC North basement.

Roethlisberger, intercepted three times in the first half, threw for 272 yards – 224 in the fourth quarter – as the Steelers (4-6) avoided a defeat that would have made it almost impossible to get into the playoffs.

But Big Ben made all the big plays, none as important as his flip to Parker. Roethlisberger had to shake off rookie Kamerion Wimbley before completing the TD pass, making him 20-for-26 in the final 15 minutes.

The Browns (3-7) spent all week talking about getting revenge for their 41-0 loss to Pittsburgh on last Christmas Eve, and for most of the day it looked like they would get it.

But Cleveland’s defense couldn’t stop Roethlisberger when it mattered most, and the Browns dropped their sixth straight game to their bitter rivals, who have won 12 of the last 13 between the teams.

After Roethlisberger hooked up with Parker, the Browns drove to Pittsburgh’s 22. With 3 seconds left, Charlie Frye threw a jump ball to the back of the end zone that Braylon Edwards nearly grabbed in a crowd.

But when the ball fell to the ground, several of the Steelers dropped to their knees in relief. Edwards, Kellen Winslow and other Cleveland players consoled each other after another tough loss.

The Browns, who led 10-0 at halftime, were only ahead 13-10 after Roethlisberger connected for a 20-yard TD pass to rookie Santonio Holmes with 9:33 left.

But Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs returned the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown 12 seconds later, and it looked as if the Browns, who haven’t won two straight games since 2003, might hang on.

Roethlisberger, though, refused to let the Steelers down.

Finally finding his touch, he completed three third-down passes as Pittsburgh drove 79 yards and pulled within 20-17 on Parker’s 1-yard run with 4:14 to go.

Cleveland’s offense had a chance to run time off the clock, but after two running plays gained just 2 yards, Frye’s third-down pass was batted down at the line by leaping Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers got the ball back with 3:06 left, and Roethlisberger went to work.

He completed passes of 13, 15 and 21 yards to get Pittsburgh into range for a possible tying field goal, but then hooked up with Holmes for a first down at Cleveland’s 16. Two plays later, he bought himself just enough time from Cleveland’s rush to flip the ball to Parker.

Roethlisberger finished 25-of-44 for 272 yards and two TDs.

Cleveland’s offense wasted two scoring opportunities in the first quarter, but the defense gave the Browns a 7-0 lead.

Roethlisberger’s second-down pass was too high for Holmes, who tipped it into the air and Browns cornerback Daven Holly, a former backup starting because of injuries, returned it 57 yards for a TD.

Pittsburgh’s Sean Morey took the ensuring kickoff back 76 yards, but Cleveland’s defense stiffened as Roethlisberger was picked off for the second time.

The Browns then chewed up nearly nine minutes and ran 14 plays before Phil Dawson’s 23-yard field goal gave them a 10-0 lead.

The Steelers finally got on the board with 4:57 left in the third quarter on Jeff Reed’s 43-yard field goal, a carom shot off the left upright.

AP-ES-11-19-06 1643EST


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