Down 27-20 at the half, the Pittsburgh Steelers scored 17 unanswered points – including 14 in the fourth quarter – to snatch an entertaining 37-27 victory from the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns, the third of which was a 1-yard lob to Will Johnson to put the Steelers (4-6) on top 30-27 with 4:50 to play. The score capped a 16-play, 97-yard drive that featured critical conversions on third-and-10 inside the Pittsburgh 5 and fourth-and-short near the Detroit 40.
Following an interception by Will Allen on the next Lions possession, the Steelers went 34 yards in five plays to clinch the comeback win. Roethliberger’s 20-yard pump-and-go touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery gave Pittsburgh a 10-point advantage with 2:35 left. The Steelers forced a turnover on downs next, delivering their fourth win in six games.
The Lions (6-4) poured on 27 points in the second quarter to reverse an early 14-0 Steelers lead. Superstar Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, who finished with six catches for 179 yards, pulled in touchdown passes of 79 and 19 yards from Matthew Stafford to cut the Pittsburgh advantage to 20-17 with four minutes left before halftime.
Joique Bell‘s 2-yard plunge gave Detroit its first lead just after the two-minute warning. The Lions had first and goal from the 1 on their final drive of the half, but had to settle for David Akers‘ second field goal of the quarter when the Steelers defense held firm.
That goal-line stand predicted Pittsburgh’s second-half stinginess, as it shut out the dangerous Detroit attack in the final 30 minutes. Stafford still threw for 362 yards, but he completed just 19 of 46 passes despite his second-quarter outburst. He went 3 of 16 in the second half.
The Steelers squandered an opportunity to tie the score midway through the third when they couldn’t punch it in from the 1 on three consecutive plays. Shaun Suisham‘s third field goal from close range brought Pittsburgh within seven points, but the missed chance loomed.
Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive was born out of a fourth-down gamble by Detroit coach Jim Schwartz. The Lions set up for a field goal from about 30 yards away, but holder Sam Martin took the snap and rushed close to a first down before fumbling upon hard contact from two Steelers defenders.
Still, Pittsburgh was stuck at its own 3 to start the crucial drive. The first two plays went nowhere, but Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown for 20 yards despite heavy pressure from the Lions’ defensive front. A pair of completions to tight end Heath Miller accounted for 30 yards, and Roethlisberger scrambled for 10 on third and 12 to set up a decision for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
He elected to go for it with about seven minutes left, with running back Le’Veon Bell reaching the sticks on a swing pass to the right flank. Jonathan Dwyer caught a similar ball on the next play and took it 20 yards down the sideline, followed by Cotchery’s 19-yard catch-and-run that gave Pittsburgh its second first down at the 1.
This time the Steelers came through, with help from a holding penalty on Detroit on second down. Bell was stopped short to begin the fresh set, but Roethlisberger found fullback Johnson in the right side of the end zone on a play-action design. Stafford tried to respond after the ensuing kickoff, but his long bomb for Calvin Johnson was easily intercepted by Allen and returned it 27 yards to the Detroit 34.
The Steelers held Calvin Johnson, indisputably the game’s best receiver, without a catch in the second half, often double- and triple-teaming the powerful athlete. He repeatedly burned cornerback Ike Taylor and the rest of the Pittsburgh secondary in the first two periods.
The opening quarter was all Pittsburgh, with Brown dashing downfield for touchdowns of 34 and 47 yards within a three-minute span. Roethlisberger, who went 29 for 45 in arguably his best game of the season, pulled the trigger on quick throws throughout the day against a vulnerable Detroit pass defense.
Brown made seven catches for 147 yards, while Miller caught a game-high eight for 67. Bell was effective running routes out of the backfield for the first time in his rookie season, grabbing four passes for 52 yards to augment 36 on the ground.
The Steelers limited the Lions’ rushers to 107 yards on 25 carries. Joique Bell had the best success, toting the ball nine times for 49.
Pittsburgh will look for its third straight win next Sunday at division-rival Cleveland. By merit of the Jets’ loss to Buffalo, the Steelers will enter next weekend one game behind the AFC’s final playoff spot.