AFC North: 2013 Week 11 DET at PIT
November, 17, 2013
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards and four TDs, leading the Steelers' second-half rally.PITTSBURGH -- On a gray day when not even a steady rain could snuff out the offensive fireworks at Heinz Field, Ben Roethlisberger showed why the Pittsburgh Steelers will find a way to keep him in Pittsburgh through the end of his career.
Or at least as long as the 10th-year veteran is able to lead drives like the one that covered 97 yards in a half-empty stadium on Sunday. That fourth-quarter drive might have saved the Steelers' season.
Roethlisberger completed 7 of 10 passes for 82 yards on the drive that he capped with a 1-yard scoring toss to fullback Will Johnson and put the Steelers ahead for good in their 37-27 win against the Lions.
His clutch play in leading the Steelers back from a fourth-quarter tie or deficit for the 32nd time of his career allowed the Steelers to improve to 4-6 and stay in the playoff hunt in the mediocre AFC, as well as remain in contention in the AFC North.
The Steelers are either tied for second in the division or in last place depending on your vantage point. And the mood that prevailed in the Steelers' locker room late Sunday afternoon sure made it feel like the former.
The Steelers had every reason to be both happy and relieved.
They lacked a signature win before beating the Lions, and they won despite playing without three starters -- and playing without a defense for an entire quarter.
After the Lions scored 27 points in the second quarter to turn a 14-point deficit into a seven-point halftime lead, you figured last rites were being administered to the Steelers' season in the locker room, or coach Mike Tomlin was yelling at his players loud enough to be heard in Cleveland, or that his captains were doing it for him.
But the Steelers, to a man, said they stayed calm and resolute.
"There's a time and place for (locker room outbursts), and I think it takes veteran leadership to have that discernment," strong safety Troy Polamalu said, "where you've got to challenge people or you've got to keep calm and make sure everybody has their wits about them."
Nobody exemplified that more than Roethlisberger, who was at his best when the Steelers needed him most.
A failed fake field goal by the Lions left the Steelers on their own 3-yard line early in the fourth quarter. But Roethlisberger calmly led them down the field, hitting Antonio Brown on third-and-nine from the Steelers' 4-yard line with a 16-yard pass. He later rumbled 10 yards on third-and-12 to set up a 3-yard swing pass to Le'Veon Bell that moved the chains.
Roethlisberger didn't flinch. Two plays after Antonio Brown bobbled a perfectly thrown pass as he was going out of bounds, Roethlisberger calmly threw a swing pass that Johnson pulled in on his way to the most important score of the season.
"I think when the game is on the line you just love that situation," Roethlisberger said after throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns.
The defense made the touchdown stand up, and it played its most inspired -- and unlikely -- half of the season following intermission. Stafford completed just three passes in the final two quarters. He threw for 47 fewer yards than Roethlisberger had on the drive that put the Steelers ahead for good.
The Steelers also shut out Calvin Johnson in the final two quarters, and anyone who saw only a box score would have thought that the wide receiver known as Megatron either got hurt or was kidnapped before the second-half kickoff.
The Steelers said they didn't make any major adjustments in covering Johnson. And as well as the defense played in the second half, the Steelers won the game for a reason that several players articulated afterward.
"They couldn't stop our offense," free safety Ryan Clark said of the Lions. "Our offense ran up and down the field all day. We just needed to get the ball to them."
The win showcased Roethlisberger's greatness and also validated offensive coordinator Todd Haley as a play-caller for at least one week. It also showed why Roethlisberger has to be the player the Steelers build around as they retool an aging defense.
The NFL is clearly a passing league, and if you don't have a quarterback in this league, you don't have a chance. Even when there was more of a premium on quaint concepts such as running the ball and winning with defense, the position of quarterback was still critical.
Remember, the Steelers went through quite a few quarterbacks in between Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger.
The stretch that is littered with forgettable signal callers is all the more reason why any separation between the Steelers and Roethlisberger would be foolish on the former's part. It is also something that would destroy the latter's legacy in Pittsburgh if he orchestrated it, and you have to think that means something to Roethlisberger as much as he talks about wanting to play his entire career for one team.
Questions continue to swirl around Roethlisberger's long-term future after the NFL Network reported on Sunday that money and the specter of losing could cause him to want out of Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
"False and false," Roethlisberger said. "I don't want to go anywhere for any reason."
Neither should the Steelers.
And the franchise that has won a record six Lombardi Trophies will figure out a way to keep Roethlisberger, and keep the Steelers competitive.
November, 17, 2013
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions:
What it means: The Steelers finally bagged a signature win, and they did it after a disastrous second quarter had pushed their season to the brink and caused more than a few fans to leave Heinz Field early. They improved to 4-6 after blowing a 14-point lead and then rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit. With winnable games at Cleveland and Baltimore next up on the schedule, the Steelers are still in the AFC North race as well as the wild-card hunt. There have been a lot of big wins in the Mike Tomlin era. This has to rank near the top of the list.
Stock watch: The defense pitched a second-half shutout after Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson toyed with it in the second quarter. And the Steelers scored a season-high 37 points because of the brilliance of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Roethlisberger threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns, and he led the Steelers to a win after they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter for the 32nd time of his career, including the postseason. The oft-criticized Haley called a masterful game; had their execution near the end zone been a little better, the Steelers would have scored a few more touchdowns.
Missed opportunities: The Steelers’ red zone struggles reached a new and almost comical low. The Steelers had to settle for field goals three times after driving inside the Lions’ 15-yard line, and they should have had touchdowns all three times, including late in the third quarter. The Steelers had a first down at the Lions’ 1-yard line, but they couldn’t punch in what would have been a game-tying touchdown. Le’Veon Bell got stuffed twice, and those runs sandwiched Roethlisberger overthrowing a wide-open David Paulson after a perfect play call by Haley.
Déjà vu all over again: It was hard to imagine the Steelers having as bad a quarter then they did earlier this month in New England when the Patriots scored four touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to blow open what had been a tie game. But the defense suffered another epic collapse, and this one allowed the Lions to score 27 points in the second quarter while gaining 280 yards. Detroit’s outburst came despite a lost fumble early in the second quarter and a goal-line stand made at the end of the half by the Steelers. The Lions’ three touchdown drives came on a total of 11 plays.
Next up: The Steelers travel to Cleveland next Sunday. The Browns dropped to 4-6 after blowing an early 13-point lead and getting routed 41-20 in Cincinnati. The Steelers lost in Cleveland last season after losing five fumbles and committing a ghastly eight turnovers.