CLEVELAND — Browns rookie cornerback Denzel Ward was brilliant in a thrilling season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers but lamented not being able to do more.
Ward intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice and added three pass breakups in a heart-stopping game that ended in a 21-21 tie on a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon. Because of that, the former Ohio State star and fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft shrugged off any personal accolades with an eye toward the bigger picture.
"You always go into a game expecting to win," Ward said, "so it's frustrating."
Ward's pair of picks were among six takeaways forced by the Browns in a back-and-forth affair in which they rallied past a slow start and double-digit deficit. After a heroic fourth-quarter comeback, Cleveland missed a potential game-winning field goal with 13 seconds to play in overtime.
Ward, meanwhile, pointed the finger at himself, bothered by the fact he gave up a 22-yard touchdown pass to All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown in the third quarter (despite what was, by all accounts, tight coverage). Head coach Hue Jackson said that kind of approach goes to show what kind of player Ward is and can be going forward.
"He's going to compete," Jackson said. "His hand was right in there on the touchdown catch to Antonio Brown. He had a chance to get that ball out, but against a really good player, the guy made that play on him. He came back and kept fighting, kept competing.
"I think Denzel is made out of the right stuff. He keeps going even though he gave up that touchdown. He put his head down and said, 'Come on, let's go.' He made plays there at the end so that's good to see, but we can't let them in the end zone on the one."
Ward, the Macedonia native who made his first regular season start in front of scores of family members and friends, played 84 of 84 defensive snaps and spent much of the day shadowing Brown. "It's crazy. He has all of the talent in the world," linebacker Joe Schobert said. "He was out there making a lot of plays. If he can keep it up, he can be a special player."
All in all, it was a promising start for Ward — even if the youngster came away from it none too pleased.
"It's just frustrating. I always expect to win the game," he said. "I would have rather had another overtime, but that's the rules, and we just have to get them next time."