Several factors determine success or failure on the football field – talent, coaching, preparation, or perhaps just the bounce of the ball. But there are defining moments in a game, in a season, or even in a career, where circumstances force the men on the field to dig to find something deep inside them that takes them beyond where simple talent and coaching dictate.
Vs. the Detroit Lions, the Pittsburgh Steelers experienced one of those moments. The only question is whether the moment will define the season, the careers, or simply the game for the men on the field.
Steelers Start Fast Out of the Gate Against Lions
Throughout 2013, Todd Haley has been scripting Pittsburgh’s opening drives and all season long the entire Steelers team has followed the same script — starting ineptly slow out of the gate. By any measure the Steelers 1st quarter performance has been anemic.
Versus the Lions, Haley opened his bag of tricks and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to unleash the no huddle.
- The results spoke for themselves.
Three minutes and fifty eight seconds into the game, Ben had gone 5 for 5, Heath Miller was back in the game, the Steelers had converted two third downs, and Antonio Brown had transformed a short check down pass into a 34 yard touchdown.
The Steelers defense also did its part too. On its opening possession Detroit chanced it it on 4th and 2 only to see Ike Taylor successfully defend Megatron aka Calvin Johnson. On the next series the defense forced a Detroit 3 and out.
Ben Roethlisberger only needed 4 plays to take the score to 14-0, hooking up with Brown for a 45 yard touchdown.
- The route that many predicted looked to be on, except that the Steelers were the routers and not the routees.
As the first 15 minutes expired, it wasn’t too much to ask if the Steelers had authored their most stunning first quarter drive since the 2005 AFC Divisional playoffs. And yet Steelers Nation couldn’t resist that nagging question…. can they keep it up?
Lions, Megatron Roar to Life in Second Quarter
Execution has not been the Steelers problem in 2013. Even at 0-4 and 2-6, Mike Tomlin’s team has shown it was capable of making plays. Now, making plays on a consistent basis has been an entirely different question.
So it was only fitting that:
- Detroit got on the board early in the second quarter
The Steelers defense responded with a forced fumble. The offense promptly moved to the 7, where the Steelers would of course settle for 3.
- Matthew Stafford roared back with a 79 yard strike to Megatron aka Calvin Johnson
The Steelers drove again, this time reaching Detroit’s twelve where Ben Roethlisberger got sacked, ending another trip to the Red Zone with a kick for three. That set the stage for one of the more humiliating 7 minute spans the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense – and that’s including the Pulverizing vs. the Patriots.
- It took Stafford and Megatron six plays to hook up for their next touchdown
- Steelers responded with a 3 and out
- Next, Stafford only hit Megatron once, who didn’t score but set up a touchdown run,
- With 1:42 left in the half, the Steelers managed to regress from their 20 to their 4 before punting from their 10
- With 1:02 remaining Stafford and Megatron failed to make end zone magic again, but they did hook up twice as the Lions kicked a field goal.
When the dust settled, in one quarter Calvin Johnson had 6 catches for 179 yards 2 touchdowns, Detroit had scored 27 points and the Steelers were down 27-20 in a game they’d once led 17-3…
Defense Quietly Digs In, While Offense Struggles
Heinz Field began emptying out at the half. Twitter lit up with calls to fire Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Todd Haley, and/or Dick LeBeau and for Art Rooney II. After seeing so many Steeler self-destructions, it’s no surprise so many in Steelers Nation gave up.
- The bigger question was, would the Mike Tomlin’s Steelers give up on themselves?
When all is said and done, Ben Roethlisberger will be remembered for his 4 touchdown, 367 yard passing performance vs. the Lions. And so he should.
But the fact that will be forgotten is that in between a fast start and a strong finish, Big Ben struggled mightily in the middle, going two drives without a completion, and another where he badly over threw a WIDE OPEN David Paulson in the end zone from the 1, resulting in yet another Red Zone failure.
After carving up the Steelers secondary in the second quarter, Matthew Stafford only completed three passes the rest of the day. Unfortunately for the Steelers, all three of those completions came just after the Steelers made it 27-23. On the strength of those three throws and some decent runs by Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, Detroit drove to the Steelers 10, and from there Stafford targeted Calvin Johnson again.
- This time Ryan Clark was there, KOing Megatron and saving a touchdown in the process.
Lion’s coach Jim Schwartz was feeling his oats nonetheless. Rather than make it a 7 point game he went for all the marbles with a fake field goal. Punter Sam Martin never had a chance. Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward stopped him cold, forced a fumble and Ryan Clark recovered.
Now the Steelers offense, the same unit which had sent its punter on the field 5 times since the first half, only needed to go 97 yards….
Roethlisberger, Steelers Dig Deep for a Fine Fourth Quarter
…As a franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have almost certainly put together finer fourth quarters. But its been a long time since Steelers Nation has witnessed the Steelers making such a strong 4th quarter statement.
The statement was so strong, because the Steelers saw plays from the top to bottom of their roster, as veterans worked in tandem with rookies, mentoring them on the art of learning to win. Consider:
- At 3rd and 9, with Ben Roethlisberger standing in his own end zone, Antonio Brown caught a 16 yard pass
- On 3rd and 12, Ben Roethlisberger saw nothing and ran for 10
- On 4th and 2, Le’Veon Bell, who did nothing running all day, caught a 3 yard pass
- Will Johnson, who has not touched the ball all year, scooted into the end zone untouched and caught the go-ahead touchdown for the Steelers
Next it was the defense’s turn, and with over 4 minutes to go, they needed to make it happen. On third and 10 Stafford ran the exact same play to Calvin Johnson that netted Detroit 79 yards and 6 points in the first half.
- Will Allen, however, read the play from the very beginning and picked off the ball, returning it to the Lion’s 34.
After some dinking and dunking, Ben Roethlisberger called a fake screen, which sprung Jerricho Cotchery wide open into the end zone giving Pittsburgh a10 point lead.
Jarvis Jones batted down passes and Ziggy Hood ended the game with a sack, ensuring that Detroit’s last drives was nothing more than a desperation gasp.
After giving up 27 points in 1 quarter, the Steelers had shut out the Lions and come back to win the game.
All This Has Happened Before… Will It Happen Again?
Steelers Nation has every right to celebrate such a dramatic victory, but they should do so with their memories open.
One year ago today, another Steelers team, minus several key starters, authored a similar game, complete with a dramatic 4th quarter comeback. That of course was the Charlie Batch inspired road victory over Baltimore, a win that seem to signal that an otherwise uneven Steelers team had gotten its act together.
- Unfortunately, the Steelers have been a model of inconsistency since then.
Versus the Detroit Lions the Pittsburgh Steelers swooned downward hard and fast. Yet what they found inside themselves that allowed them to rebound was real.
Now the question for Mike Tomlin is can he ensure that what they found remains both real and lasting…?