By Matthew Marczi
The matchup today between the Detroit Lions and the Pittsburgh Steelers is truly a pivotal game for the home team. Standing at 3-6 and given where the rest of the division is, a win or a loss could have the team—or at least the fan base—either chasing playoff hopes or diving into the 2014 draft class to see who the Steelers would be fools not to take so they can point it out for years to come when they don’t take him.
The Lions won the coin toss and elected to receive, putting a defense that is absent LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel on the field first. Ziggy Hood and Jarvis Jones started in their place. Matthew Stafford threw a short pass to the tight end Brandon Pettigrew on first down, who stayed down injured after the play. Reggie Bush was good for three on second down to set up 3rd-and-2. Stafford found Bush past Jones for a first down pass.
It appeared that Bush may have lost the ball before he was down, but the Lions snapped the ball quickly to avoid a potential challenge. They only gained three yards on the first two downs, however, to set up third and long. Stafford was able to find his backup tight end in front of Will Allen for the first down.
From the Steelers’ 38, Bush was held for no gain, but he picked up seven on second down to get into field goal range. On third down, Stafford missed a wide open Bush in the flat that could have gone for well more than a first down. The Lions decided to go for it on fourth down, but it fell incomplete, intended for Calvin Johnson in front of Ike Taylor.
Taking over from their own 31, the Steelers handed it off to Le’Veon Bell on first down for about 13, but lost three on the next carry. Heath Miller gained five on second down to set up third and eight. In the hurry up, Ben Roethlisberger found Miller again for the first down just beyond the sticks.
After two short gains, Kelvin Beachum was flagged for a false start on third down to set up a third and 11. Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown on a screen pass, who used his blocking to wiggle his way to a first down. Brown has been abnormally successful converting long third downs off short passes this season.
Just a play later, Brown took another short pass into the end zone after breaking a tackle for the team’s first touchdown on their opening drive of the year to take a 7-0 lead.
On the Lions’ second play of their second possession, Stafford was pressured and then overthrew his receiver down the field. On third and long, he looked deep again, but badly overthrew his target again, this time without pressure. The Lions went three-and-out.
Bell squeezed through a hole for three yards on first down. Back to the hurry up, Roethlisberger aimed a quick pass to Emmanuel Sanders that the receiver could not haul in. on third and seven, he rocketed one to Brown near the sideline for the conversion.
On the next play, Roethlisberger stepped up into the pocket to avoid pressure and found Brown once again, who used his downfield blockers to find the end zone on a 47-yard reception, which already put him over 100 yards on the day with his second touchdown. 14-0 Steelers.
The Lions got a good return on the kickoff out to the 30. On second down, Jason Worilds got a hit on Stafford, who completed the pass to set up third and short. Joique Bell converted the first down on a draw. A play later, he sidestepped about three tackle for nearly a 20-yard gain.
Johnson’s first reception was followed by a missed tackle by Taylor, which allowed a first down into the red zone. From the 19, Stafford looked for Johnson in the end zone, but Taylor was there. After a short gain, Stafford’s pass to Pettigrew into the end zone was just an inch or so high, which was the difference between seven points and three. The Lions cut the lead to 14-3.
The Steelers tried an end-around with Brown that ended with a disastrous seven-yard loss on first down. On second and 17, Roethlisberger looked for Brown in close coverage, but it went incomplete. Brown was only good for about four on third down to force a three-and-out.
A poor punt put the Steelers defense on the spot. Bush fumbled the ball, however, and was picked up by Lawrence Timmons to give the offense another spark after sputtering out on their third drive. Roethlisberger and the offense took over deep in Lions territory. On first down, he flicked the ball out to Miller for first-down yardage as he took a hit. Markus Wheaton caught his first catch since returning from a broken finger for another first down.
From the 11, Bell bounced a run outside for positive yardage, leaping over a defender for four yards. Roethlisberger’s pass was off Bell’s hands on what should have been a touchdown and could have been intercepted. The Steelers called a timeout after the score to set up the third-down play. Roethlisberger was pressured to throw the ball away to settle for a field goal, though it did push the lead back up to 17-3.
The Lions were finally able to capitalize on the single coverage on Johnson, as Stafford down him for a 79-yard score. Stafford lofted the ball up and Johnson came down with it in front of Taylor, whose missed tackle allowed him to jog into the end zone to pull within 17-10.
Sanders left the previous drive with a foot injury, leaving Wheaton to pick up the slack behind Jerricho Cotchery. Roethlisberger found him on the move over the middle for 21 yards. On the next play, Bell spun around a tackle in the backfield for a four-yard gain.
Bell took a pass a long way on the next play into the red zone. Roethlisberger’s pass to Cotchery was batted into the air and nearly intercepted. From the 12, Roethlisberger nearly found Miller in the back of the end zone, but he could not bring the ball down through the process of the catch. On third and 10, Nick Fairley earned the first sack of the day. Another field goal made it 20-10.
The Steelers were hoping to force a three-and-out after a false start left the Lions in third and 11, but Stafford found his tight end wide open for 31 yard across midfield. One play later and the Lions were in the red zone. From the 19, Stafford found Johnson near the goal line, who caught the ball and stretched into the end zone for his second touchdown to cut the lead to three.
To make matters worse, the Steelers quickly went three-and-out with nearly three minutes remaining in the half and the Lions in possession of all of their timeouts. Then Taylor dropped an easy interception. Then Johnson beat Taylor on a back shoulder throw down to the Steelers’ 39.
After the two-minute warning, Bell took the ball all the way down to the two. Johnson came up with a jump ball on first and goal, but he came down out of bounds. On second down, Bell plowed in for the go-ahead score to take a 24-20 lead.
With two timeouts and 1:42 to go, the Steelers had a chance to score again before the half. Guy Whimper was flagged for holding on first down to back them up to the 10. On first and 20, Roethlisberger threw a pitch to Jonathan Dwyer that he should have knocked down for a two-yard loss. Whimper was then flagged for another hold to set up second and 25. David Paulson dropped the pass. A six-yard gain by Miller at least forced the Lions to use their second timeout.
Stafford’s first pass was batted down at the line. On second down, the right tackle was flagged for a false start. Stafford looked deep after the penalty, but the pass was defended by Cortez Allen. On third and 15, Johnson came up with the conversion after the blitz was late. After a spike, Bell took a short pass and made it to the sideline for first down yardage.
The Steelers got no pressure on the following play, which allowed Stafford to find Johnson inside the five. On first and goal, Taylor was flagged for pass interference, moving the ball to the one. Taylor dropped another interception on second and goal, but Pittsburgh did hold for a field goal, entering halftime down 27-20.