There were plenty of obvious big plays in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ thrilling comeback Sunday afternoon at a soggy Heinz Field.
Among those: Antonio Brown weaving through the befuddled Detroit secondary for a pair of touchdowns in the opening quarter, giving the Steelers their largest first-half lead of the season. Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson more than matched Brown in the second frame, getting two scores of his own and 170-plus yards on five electrifying catches before halftime.
There were several key flash points in the fourth quarter alone, starting with the Steelers’ denial of Detroit’s fake field goal. Almost every play of Pittsburgh’s game-deciding drive that followed was large, including a third-and-long conversion pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Brown to get it going, followed by a short toss to Le’Veon Bell that erased a fourth-and-short near midfield.
Certainly, Big Ben’s two touchdown passes in the final five minutes were significant, as was Will Allen‘s interception of Matthew Stafford in between. But despite all those attention-grabbing highlights, some less-than-sparkling moments were just as important in pushing the Steelers to their second straight victory and legitimately back in the AFC wild-card chase.
The game’s opening drive is a good place to start. The Lions, looking to make a statement in their first trip to Pittsburgh since 2005, covered 49 yards in eight plays to reach third and 3 at the Steelers 31. Stafford overthrew an open Reggie Bush on the left side, squandering a chance for a big gain, then the superlative Johnson uncharacteristically dropped a perfectly thrown pass over the middle on fourth down.
Fast forward to early in the second quarter, when the first of three short punts by Pittsburgh’s Mat McBriar on the day gave Detroit the ball at the Steelers 45. Down 14-3, the Lions handed off to Bush, who fumbled the ball away to Lawrence Timmons. The Pittsburgh linebacker sprinted to the Detroit 32 before being pushed out of bounds; seven plays later, the Steelers added an easy three points on Shaun Suisham‘s 25-yard field goal.
About a half hour later, Detroit capped its remarkable 27-point quarter with a David Akers chip shot. The Steelers retreated to the locker room down 27-20, but it could’ve been worse. Aided by the fact the Lions had already expended their first-half timeouts, the Steelers could drop eight men into the end zone when Detroit earned a first-and-goal situation at the 1-yard line. Forced to throw quickly, Stafford fired three straight incompletions in tight quarters, keeping Pittsburgh within a single score.
Starting with those hasty throws, Stafford connected on just three of his final 19 attempts, and while the Steelers sacked him but twice, they got enough pressure in the Detroit backfield in the second half to keep the Lions’ quarterback from delivering his usual missiles. On the other side, Roethlisberger was dropped only once, as the Steelers offensive line kept Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley out of the picture on passing downs.
That success at the line of scrimmage was critical in the Pittsburgh comeback. Roethlisberger misfired on his first five second-half attempts, but he looked quite comfortable in completing 15 of 19 passes on the Steelers’ final three drives. The results of those drives? Field goal, touchdown, touchdown.
Yes, the obvious moments will get most of the attention as the Steelers find themselves one game behind the final AFC playoff spot. However, a combination of little victories on Sunday’s slippery field were just as critical to help make the next couple weeks quite interesting.