How to explain the Detroit Lions scoring 27 points in the second quarter Sunday -- and none the rest of the way against the Steelers? How to explain Detroit's great Calvin Johnson catching six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half -- and none in the second? How to explain Matthew Stafford's 327 first-half passing yards for the Lions -- and 35 in the second half?
We give you Troy Polamalu, a man of few words, who explained it like this:
"We just did our job better."
Just as Dan Ferens, a longtime Steelers front office member who literally shut off Detroit players' annoying pregame music blaring from a boombox near the Steelers locker room, their defense had heard enough. They finally pulled the plug on the Lions in the second half.
Their 37-27 come-from-ahead, come-from-behind victory at Heinz Field raised the Steelers record to 4-6 with two consecutive wins to start the second half of the season.
"Offense, defense, we were up, we were down, there was no quit in anybody," said Ben Roethlisberger, who led his team from behind or tied in the fourth quarter for a 32nd time.
Stafford was brilliant for one quarter, the second, when the Lions (6-4) stunned the Steelers defense for all 27 points and Johnson -- known as Megatron -- went wild on Steelers corneback Ike Taylor.
Roethlisberger was magnificent throughout, opening the game in the no-huddle offense and playing that scheme much of the way. He completed 29 of 45 for 367 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked once.
He did it with little help from his ground game, which managed just 40 yards on 27 carries, 12 of them on six of his own scrambles.
Roethlisberger's fourth touchdown pass was a 20-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery, who caught it in the end zone on a fake screen play that ended all the drama with 2:29 left.
"I came here to play with him," said Cotchery, in his third year catching passes from Roethlisberger. "He has a lot of respect from around the league.
"He doesn't get a lot of attention, but with the amount of touchdowns and yards in a cold-weather city, it speaks volumes about him."
Roethlisberger threw two quick touchdown passes to Antonio Brown on the Steelers first two offensive series of the game. Both were short passes that Brown turned into scores of 37 and 47 yards. Brown did not quite match Megatron's performance, but he did have seven receptions for 147 yards, and unlike Johnson, did not stalk out of the locker room afterward without speaking.
"It's all about our teams -- the Steelers and Detroit and whose team did a good job," said Brown, the NFL's leading pass-catcher. "My team did a good job today."
So after one quarter and their first 14-0 lead of the season, the Steelers looked to be on their way to a blowout victory.
Enter Stafford, Johnson and Taylor.
Taylor tipped away Stafford's first pass to Johnson, who caught only one in the first quarter. It was a good start. Then Johnson added five more in the second quarter and by halftime, he had two touchdowns and 179 yards. Taylor dropped two easy interceptions right to him, was penalized for pass interference in the end zone and was called for holding Johnson on a play in which the Detroit receiver still managed a 22-yard catch.
It was as tough a quarter as Ike Taylor ever had. Then, boom, he allowed nothing in the second half, and afterward said he never lost confidence.
"Ike Taylor stood up," said safety Will Allen, whose interception of Stafford set up the final touchdown. "Taylor had him man-to-man the whole game. Taylor came through. That's what he gets paid for and that's what he did. He got hands on him and made it hard for him."
The entire defense did a 180 turn and, with starters LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel out with injuries, blanked Stafford and the Lions the final 30 minutes. As Polamalu said, they changed little schematically.
"The game plan was the game plan," Taylor said. "We stuck with it."
He said they became more aggressive mentally, and maybe they did. Something had to explain the difference.
First, though, came another hiccup for the Steelers in the red zone. They moved in the third quarter to a first down at the Lions 1 and could not score on three tries. Shaun Suisham kicked a 21-yard field goal.
Twice in the second quarter while Detroit was inundating them with touchdowns, the Steelers responded with field goals after cracking the red zone. Suisham kicked a 25-yarder and then a 34-yarder.
So his 21-yarder to open the scoring in the third quarter, while it brought them within 27-23, was not a particularly good sign.
But then they got some defensive help late on Detroit's next drive and some aid from the Lions themselves. Stafford moved his offense to second-and-4 at the Steelers 9, looking to respond to another field goal with another touchdown. But Ziggy Hood rose up to tackle Reggie Bush for a 1-yard loss, Ryan Clark tipped away a pass headed for Johnson in the end zone and the Lions lined up for a field goal.
Instead of kicking the 27-yarder, holder/punter Sam Martin took the snap and tried to run with it. He fumbled while being tackled short of the first down and the Steelers took over at their 3.
That looked problematic when it was third-and-9 at the 4. But Brown caught another pass from Roethlisberger, this for 20 yards over the middle, and a 97-yard, winning drive got its fuel.
It ended when fullback Will Johnson caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to put the Steelers in front, 30-27.
"It was a situation that I told the guys, first and foremost, let's get a first down," Roethlisberger said of that 16-play, eight-minute drive. "If you get a first down, then you see where you go."
That is how they now look at their season that started 0-4. Win a game, see where it goes.
"We said coming in that we wanted to be 1-0 after this week, and that is what we are," Roethlisberger said. "Starting Monday, we are back to square one."
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published November 17, 2013 1:52 PM