Ben Roethlisberger knew the retired Heath Miller, suspended teammates Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant and the injured Markus Wheaton weren't walking through that door. So he put the Pittsburgh Steelers' young, largely untested offense on his shoulders.
Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns to lead the Steelers to a 38-16 rout of the Washington Redskins on Monday night. After telling his teammates he believed in not just All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown but Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates and others, Roethlisberger recovered a fumble at a pivotal moment and completed 27 of 37 passes for 300 yards in the season-opening victory.
He threw two touchdowns to Brown and another to Rogers. Often playing on the opposite side from Josh Norman and tormenting cornerback Bashaud Breeland, Brown made eight catches for 126 yards.
Starting in place of Bell, DeAngelo Williams ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
"We're confident in that group," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I know we were missing some pieces tonight, but we had `7.' And when you got `7' you got the chance to put together performances like that."
Washington led 6-0 and appeared to have another scoring opportunity late in the first quarter when linebacker Ryan Kerrigan sacked and stripped Roethlisberger deep in Pittsburgh territory. Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey knocked the ball out of Kerrigan's hands, and Roethlisberger dived on it at his own 13-yard line.
"The ball was on the ground and Pounce was kind of laying on it and I was trying to tell Pouncey it was right under his leg," Roethlisberger said. "Any time you can get those balls back, it's huge."
Roethlisberger then guided Pittsburgh 87 yards down the field, finishing the drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Brown on a gutsy fourth-and-1 call from the Washington 29.
"We knew it was coming; I knew it was coming," Breeland said. "That's why I played it the way I played it. It was just a freak play, and he made the play. That's all I can say."
The next time he got the ball, Big Ben took the Steelers 67 yards on 14 plays to make it 14-6.
Pittsburgh's passing attack got clicking, but Kirk Cousins and the Redskins couldn't keep up. With Matt Jones and the running game grounded and tight end Jordan Reed taken out of the picture, Cousins finished 30 of 43 for 329 yards and two interceptions.
Washington got it as close as 24-16 on Chris Thompson's fourth-quarter touchdown. Then Roethlisberger was at it again, taking the Steelers 77 yards as Williams put the game away with a 15-yard touchdown run to break the 30-point mark.
PRIME TIME READY: Tomlin improved to 11-2 on Monday night, including 6-2 on the road and 2-0 at Washington. Pittsburgh is 4-1 when opening the season on Monday night, and the Steelers' 44-24 record on MNF is third-best in the NFL behind Seattle (23-6) and San Francisco (47-25).
The Redskins have lost 15 of their past 16 Monday Night home games.
HOPPING HOPKINS: Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins made all three of his field-goal attempts, connecting from 31, 40 and 34 yards. Hopkins was the Redskins' entire offensive production until Thompson's touchdown.
PINBALL ROGERS: Rogers' first career touchdown catch in his NFL debut was a pinball special. Roethlisberger's pass from the 3-yard line hit receiver Sammie Coates and then Rogers' facemask before he finished the grab.
SHAZIER, PLAYMAKER: The play after forcing a fumble that the Redskins recovered, Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier picked off Cousins to set up Brown's 26-yard TD catch in the third quarter. Shazier left the game with a right knee injury and was being evaluated after the game. Tomlin said he'd have more information Tuesday.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Jones was in the starting lineup after separating his left shoulder on Aug. 19, but he lost 4 yards on his first two carries and finished with 24 yards on seven carries. Washington totaled 55 yards rushing, including just 28 in the first half.
REED OPTION: Reed caught three passes for 39 yards on the Redskins' opening drive and was a nonfactor with four catches for 25 yards the rest of the way.
Tomlin on why he called a pass to the end zone on fourth-and-1: "We play to win."