Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers gave their critics and the Detroit Lions a vivid reminder on Sunday.
The window might be closing on the Steelers and their enigmatic quarterback. It’s not shut. Not yet.
Roethlisberger passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final 5 minutes as the Steelers rallied to beat the Lions 37-27.
Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and two scores and Pittsburgh’s defense rebounded from a horrific second quarter to shut out Detroit in the second half. The Steelers (4-6) have won two straight and kept the Lions (6-4) winless in Pittsburgh for 58 years and counting.
Matthew Stafford threw for 362 yards with two touchdowns and an interception to become the Lions’ all-time leading passer. Calvin Johnson hauled in six passes for 179 yards and both scores, but Detroit’s two stars disappeared over the final 30 minutes.
Stafford completed just three of 16 passes in the second half, with none of the completions going to Johnson.
Still, the Lions entered the fourth quarter with the lead thanks to a 27-point deluge in the second quarter. Detroit had a chance to push the advantage to a touchdown but rather than have David Akers attempt a short field goal, the Lions opted to run a fake. Holder Sam Martin, however, fumbled while fighting for the necessary 5 yards and the Steelers recovered.
Pittsburgh responded with a 16-play, 97-yard drive that included a fourth-down conversion and ended with Roethlisberger flipping a pass to Will Johnson for a 1-yard score to put the Steelers in front 30-27.
Stafford tried to hit Johnson in triple-coverage, but Pittsburgh’s Will Allen picked it off and returned it to the Detroit 34. Five plays later, Roethlisberger floated the ball to a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery for a 20-yard touchdown and the comeback was complete.
Detroit’s collapse was hard to imagine during an explosive first half as Johnson and Stafford did whatever they wanted.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said last week he couldn’t wait for the chance to go ”mano-a-mano” with the NFL’s best receiver. Like nearly every player who has lined up across the line of scrimmage from Johnson over last three years, the matchup looked like a mismatch.
At least, for a while.
Taylor landed a blow early, knocking down the first pass Stafford threw Johnson’s way. The 11-year veteran and his befuddled teammates couldn’t get a hand on the second. Or the third. Or pretty much anything else the Lions and their superstar wide receiver felt like doing.
The Lions spotted the Steelers a 14-0 first-quarter lead as Roethlisberger hit Brown for touchdowns of 34 and 47 yards, an avalanche of points for Pittsburgh’s sputtering offense but barely a blip for one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
Detroit needed to hold the ball for 6:37 to set a franchise record for points in a quarter. Johnson, as he tends to be, was right in the middle of it. He started the onslaught with an impossibly easy 79-yard touchdown, taking a heave from Stafford at the Pittsburgh 40 and then practically jogging into the end zone to make it 14-10.
Johnson was at it again the next time the Lions had the ball, beating the coverage to the inside for a 19-yard score to tie the game at 17.
Taylor became so frustrated that at one point he was flagged for holding and pass interference on Johnson on consecutive plays late in the first half, though the penalties served their purpose. Rather than get a last-second touchdown to go up by 10 at the break, the Lions were forced to kick a field goal and settle for a 27-20 lead.
All of that momentum, however, vanished as quickly as it appeared.
Rather than adding to a resume that includes a road win at Chicago and a thrilling comeback against Dallas, the Lions continued a flabbergasting pattern of erratic play while the Steelers stoked – for another week at least – whatever flicking postseason hopes they have of getting back to .500 and perhaps beyond.