Defense comes up big for Steelers in 2nd half
PITTSBURGH – The Steelers defense was torched for 257 passing yards and 27 points in the second quarter alone on a rainy Sunday at Heinz Field. They watched their two-touchdown lead turn into a seven-point deficit to the Detroit Lions and their all-world receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
Yet, the Steelers defenders didn’t blink an eye at halftime.
“We are who we are,” Steelers veteran safety Ryan Clark said. “That’s what I love about this team and our coach [Mike Tomlin]. He just said we had to come out and play better in the second half, and we knew that.”
The Steelers defense made a dramatic turnaround, limiting the potent Lions offense to 72 total yards in the second half and zero points. The Pittsburgh offense made the comeback complete by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to knock off the Lions, 37-27.
“We weren’t executing [defensive coordinator Dick] Lebeau’s defense in the first half,” Clark said. “In the second half, we did a better job at that, plus having guys like William Gay, Will Allen, Troy [Polamalu] and Ike [Taylor], who’ve played this game so long, helps. We were able to mix it up and give [the Lions] some different looks. Once they started repeating plays, we were able to cover them better.”
The Steelers won their second straight game and are now 4-6 with a trip to Cleveland to take on the Browns set for 1 p.m. next Sunday. The Lions fell to 6-4 and have gone 58 years without a victory in Pittsburgh.
Although the Steelers are still a ways from getting back into playoff contention, the victory Sunday was arguably their best of the season. Not only did they come from behind in the second half, but they beat a team that was loaded with young talent and led the NFC North Division.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns, and Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and two scores. The Steelers defense recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass, and the offense didn’t turn over the ball.
“We came out and played a good 30 minutes of football [in the second half] and did what was necessary to get the victory,” Tomlin said. “We’ll take it and move forward.”
The big turning point came at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Lions leading, 27-23, and lining up for a 28-yard field goal on fourth-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 10. Punter Sam Martin, the holder, took the snap and tried to run for the first down.
Martin was tracked down by Steelers linemen Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward, who hit Martin and caused him to fumble.
Clark recovered the ball at the 3-yard line with 12:49 left in the game. The Steelers then proceeded to march 97 yards, converting an early third-and-9 from their own 4 and a fourth-and-2 at the Detroit 36. The drive lasted 8 minutes and culminated with a 1-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to fullback Will Johnson.
“We had them backed up,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We played well on first and second down and then let them out of the hole right there. We had a chance to put that game away. We didn’t get it done today.”
The Steelers put the game away when Allen intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass on the ensuing Lions possession, and Roethlisberger fired a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery five plays after the pick.
Detroit then had one more possession, but Stafford couldn’t complete a pass. In fact, he didn’t complete any throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 35 yards passing in the second half after throwing for a Lions record 327 yards in the first half.
Stafford connected with Johnson on a 79-yard bomb and a 19-yard score in the second quarter and later found running back Joique Bell for 37 yards to set up a Bell 2-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 24-20 lead. They also had a good chance to score another touchdown before halftime, but the Steelers forced them to kick a field goal after having a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
The Steelers offense kept the team in the game in the first half with Roethlisberger and Brown teaming up for touchdown passes of 34 and 47 yards. The Steelers also received two field goals from Shaun Suisham in the first half and one in the third quarter after they, too, had a first-and-goal at the 1.
“I felt we did a good job on offense,” Roethlisberger said. “I am still disappointed in the red zone. We could have been better.”
The way the Steelers defense played in the second half, though, the offense didn’t have to play any better than it did. Stafford and Johnson, who finished with six receptions for 179 yards, were well on their way to record-setting days before getting shut down in the third and fourth quarters.
“We came out more mentally aggressive in the second half and was giving our offense a shot,” said cornerback Taylor, who followed Johnson around the entire game. “We were sloppy in the first half, but we shut everything down and balled in the second half.”