Roethlisberger does not play; Tomlin starts Leftwich at QB in first tune-up
Lawrence Timmons wraps up Detroit's Jahvid Best in the first half before the rains came to Heinz Field just before halftime Saturday night.
Dennis Dixon dazzled with his legs and his arm, accounting for more than 160 yards of offense.
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The Steelers' first preseason game included a lightning delay of one hour, 13 minutes and at least a one-week delay until anyone gets to see Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin ended a mystery Saturday night that began to take shape in April when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for at least the first four games of the regular season.
When would Roethlisberger play in the preseason and how much? The early answer: Not at all. Tomlin started the quarterback who is likely to start the regular season -- Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich completed 6 of 10 passes for 43 yards before giving way to Dennis Dixon as the Steelers defeated the Detroit Lions, 23-7, at Heinz Field.
Dixon completed 6 of 7 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown for a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He also ran six times for 31 yards. Charlie Batch replaced Dixon with 4:12 left.
"With the number of snaps that we anticipated the first offense running, it just wasn't appropriate to play him," Tomlin reasoned as to why he did not play Roethlisberger. "He wanted to play, he was ready to play, he's had an awesome training camp so far. It just wasn't in the cards for him based on those circumstances. We're not interested in sending Ben Roethlisberger out there with the second group the first time out."
Roethlisberger left the locker room after the game without commenting.
An intriguing sidebar to the decision at quarterback was the Steelers' obvious attempts to run against the Lions. They have been resolute about returning to their once-powerful ground game since team president Art Rooney strongly suggested they do that this season.
They ran 16 times in the first half and threw it 11 times. They ran it from the shotgun, they ran when they might have thrown the ball last season. Isaac Redman was the star of this ground-breaking effort. Dubbed "Red Zone" last year for his ability to score near the goal line, Redman did it all Saturday night.
He picked up 31 yards on a twisting, tackle-breaking romp, he caught a screen pass and converted it into a 13-yard gain, and he scored on his specialty, a 1-yard touchdown run. He ran 15 times for 60 yards.
Roethlisberger suited up and warmed up but did not play. He watched from the sideline, wearing a baseball cap.
The most spectacular play of the game came when Dixon completed a short pass to rookie Antonio Brown, cutting across the middle, and he turned it into a 68-yard touchdown to put the Steelers on top, 23-7, with 7:08 left.
Jeff Reed kicked three field goals to go with the two touchdowns. Calvin Johnson caught a 2-yard pass from Matthew Stafford for Detroit's touchdown.
The Steelers scored first and there was good news and bad because of it. The defense that provided so few interceptions last season, got one quickly when safety Ryan Clark intercepted a tipped pass from Stafford and a short return put the ball at Detroit's 17.
And then the offense that had so much trouble scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season, failed on its first try this season. And it failed by trying to run.
On first down at the 17, Rashard Mendenhall gained 1 yard up the middle. He tried to run on second down on a delayed handoff from Leftwich but was nailed by blitzing safety Randy Phillips as he got the ball for a 5-yard loss.
Leftwich completed a 4-yard pass to Heath Miller and Reed converted a 35-yard field goal for a 3-0 Steelers lead.
The Lions, on their third series, kept their first-team offense in the game against the Steelers' second-team defense and they drove 68 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown, Stafford's 2-yard pass to Johnson in the second quarter for a 7-3 lead.
Steelers running backs had trouble hanging onto the football in the first half. Mendenhall lost one fumble after breaking into the open -- it was recovered by teammate Flozell Adams. Mewelde Moore fumbled shortly thereafter but recovered it himself.
Redman then fumbled and Detroit recovered at the Steelers' 32. But coach Mike Tomlin challenged and after referee Jeff Triplette reviewed a replay, he ruled Redman's elbow hit the turf before the ball popped loose.
That ruling gave the Steelers a first down and Redman new life. The second-year back who led the Steelers in rushing a year ago in the preseason as a rookie, caught a screen pass for 13 yards and then, on a draw, scampered 31 yards to Detroit's 23. Redman made three tacklers miss on that run, two on separate spin moves.
Once again, though, the Steelers could not convert in the red zone when they reached the 19 and Reed kicked a 37-yard field goal to close the gap to 7-6.
Leftwich exited and Dixon came on with 4:45 to go and a heavy downpour unloading on Heinz Field. Dixon directed his offense to a 75-yard touchdown drive with 51 of that coming on a pass-and-run from Dixon to wide receiver Arnaz Battle, who caught the pass at the 45, broke a tackle and ran it to the 10.
After a penalty, Dixon rolled right behind Moore's block and into the end zone but an officials' review overturned the touchdown and put the ball at the 1. Redman plunged into the end zone over left guard on the next play for the touchdown.
Shortly after that, lightning bolts joined a deluge of a rainstorm and the officials cleared the field with 1:31 left in the first half.
First Published August 15, 2010 12:00 am