In what was a turnaround for the ages, the Steelers defense went from the hopeless over-the-hill gang it so often has been depicted as this season in the first half to a throwback to the fierce units that once dominated the AFC in the second.
The Steelers defense, led by Ike Taylor’s massive incompetence, allowed the Detroit Lions to run wild in the first half and then completely shut them down in the second half.
What a remarkable and inexplicable football game.
Not to be overlooked in this 37-27 win today at Heinz Field was another superb performance by Ben Roethlisberger. Disconnect that!
The Steelers took a 14-0 lead on their first two possession and but that advantage was lost in a blur as the Lions scored 27 second-quarter points.
The lowlights mostly belonged to Taylor, the aging cornerback.
He got beat by the great Calvin Johnson on a 79-yard touchdown pass that should not have happened. After Johnson caught the ball, Taylor had a clear shot at him from behind. But rather than going low and taking Johnson’s legs out from under him, Taylor hit him above the waist and bounced off. Johnson romped into the end zone.
Twice in the second quarter, Taylor dropped what would have been easy interceptions with the second coming on the 1-yard line. On both drives, Detroit went on to score touchdowns.
The Lions accumulated 379 yards in the first half with 327 of them coming from quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In the second half, they accumulated 72 yards. Stafford threw for 35. Incredible.
Roethlisberger, who spent the early part of the week denying reports he wanted to be traded and was unhappy with his situation with the Steelers, let his play do his talking. If there is a disconnect -- the buzz word of the week -- between Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley it was not noticeable this afternoon.
Roethlisberger completed 29 of 45 passes for 367 yards and four touchdowns. He had a 119.4 passer rating. He was not perfect, though. He overthrew a wide open David Paulsen in the end zone on a third-quarter drive in which the Steelers had to settle for a field goal.
But that turned out to be a minor footnote to the game as Detroit coach Jim Schwartz set the stage for the Steelers comeback. Up by four, 27-23, early in the fourth quarter, Schwartz elected to try a fake field goal. On fourth and four from the 9, the Lions went in field-goal formation but holder Sam Martin, the team’s punter, ran with the snap. He was stopped short of a first down and fumbled.
From there, the Steelers drove 96 yards, a magnificent possession, to score and take the lead and the game.
The Lions completely had their way with the Steelers defense in the first half. Stafford pierced them with nine passing plays of more than 15 yards. On one drive, he rattled off consecutive passing plays off 31, 25 and 19 yards, with the last being a touchdown pass to Johnson, who had 179 passing yards in the first half and 0 in the second.
The Steelers' Antonio Brown, in the midst of a spectacular season that is raising his profile to among the best in the NFL, almost matched Johnson and was not shut out in the crucial second half. Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and, like Johnson, for two touchdowns.
In the avalanche of criticism directed at the Steelers personnel department, the often overlooked re-signing of Brown to a long-term deal appears to be a move of genius.
After the Steelers went ahead in the fourth quarter, the Lions had plenty of time to come back but the defense did not falter. Stafford threw two incompletions when he got the ball back and then was intercepted on a long pass intended for Johnson by Will Allen, who returned it 27 yards. That play set up another Steelers touchdown, which came on a 20-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery.
Two starters on defense -- end Brett Keisel and linebacker LaMarr Woodley -- did not dress due to injury. Starting guard Ramon Foster did not dress and starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was injured in the first half and did not return.
For the Steelers, this was their signature win of the season. The Lions came in leading the NFL North with a 6-3 record. The Steelers are 4-6 and trail first-place Cincinnati, which is 7-4 after a win over Cleveland today, by 2½ games.
The Steelers schedules lightens a bit the next three weeks. They play at Cleveland, at Baltimore, a team they’ve already beaten, and have Miami at home.
It’s a long road -- an almost impossible road -- but the win today inserted a small dose of hope into the Steelers season.
First Published November 17, 2013 5:03 PM