CLEVELAND — As the Browns discovered during an eon with Joe Thomas at left tackle, an offensive line can carry a team only so far.
A franchise quarterback is the real ticket.
In Sunday's oddball opener against Pittsburgh, the offensive line came around long enough to reverse momentum. Pittsburgh's annoyingly good quarterback wouldn't go away. Cleveland's new QB wasn't enough. Or was he?
Despite playing behind a struggling undrafted rookie left tackle, Taylor did enough to contribute to a 21-21 tie. Some might deem a tie against the defending AFC North champs as half worthy of a parade.
Instead, left guard Joel Bitonio said, "It felt like a loss."
The chance to win came down to a blocked 42-yard field goal with 0:09 left in overtime. Might it have been won earlier with a different left tackle? Undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison was the first opening-day left tackle other than Thomas since Kevin Shaffer in 2006. Not Bitonio, who spent the preseason there. Not Greg Robinson, a former No. 2 overall draft pick who has made 48 career starts.
General manager John Dorsey and his staff think Harrison's talent is on par with any rookie tackle in the league. The decision became to throw him into the fire.
"We were trying to communicate with (Harrison) on every play, get him in the right spot, and I thought he improved throughout the game," Bitonio said.
Head coach Hue Jackson rejected the thought the line was in deep because of too many moving parts. Ex-Steeler Chris Hubbard is new at right tackle. Right guard Kevin Zeitler missed the preseason due to injury. Since-departed Shon Coleman was the left tackle early in training camp.
"There's only one moving part," said Jackson, alluding to Harrison and stretching a point. "The rest of those guys have been the same guys."
Zeitler, a seventh-year pro and second-year Brown, said Taylor affords the kind of quarterback stability needed as the line grows.
"Tyrod is the coolest cat there is," Zeitler said. "He's exactly what you want out there.
"Obviously there a lot of improvements that need to be made in our group, and I think we'll get that done."
Behind guards Bitonio and Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter, the Browns blew a hole in the middle of Pittsburgh's defense on a run-dominated series to open the third quarter.
So composed at this point of his career he can looked like "Bored Ben," Roethlisberger immediately orchestrated a play that left JuJu Schuster-Smith with a 67-yard catch and run, leading to a deflating touchdown. The lead later stretched to 21-7. The Browns rallied, though.
The first series of the third quarter was a throwback to 2014, when the Browns pushed Pittsburgh around in a 31-10 victory. Taylor got sacked at the 4 on the first play, but from there he drove 96 yards on nine plays to a touchdown.
"That was a good drive," Zeitler said, "but you have to be able to do that all the time."
Trailing 21-14 and in Pittsburgh territory after a Myles Garret strip sack, the line was overmatched on three consecutive plays. T.J. Watt, who made four sacks on the day, shook his fist at Taylor while exiting the field prior to a punt.
Early on, Bitonio false started on the Browns' third snap of the game. On the next play, Harrison jumped too soon, giving the Browns two false starts within the season's first four snaps.
Harrison was nailed for a second false start late in the first quarter. On third-and-10, Harrison got driven backward by Bud Dupree, resulting in a tipped ball and incompletion while Taylor tried to throw from a fast-closing pocket.
Late in the half, Dupree shot around Harrison for a strip sack. Bitonio bailed him out by diving on the loose football.
As the Browns turn to Game 2 at New Orleans, the decision makers must decide whether they need to dive on the left tackle issue. It has been an issue since Thomas left the lineup for the first time and the last time all on the same day last season.
Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP