Trio of sacks secures Steelers win over Detroit
William Gay does his best impersonation of former teammate Larry Foote after sacking Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper in the fourth quarter.
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DETROIT -- It looked like another meltdown again late yesterday afternoon in a city that knows too much about that lately. Only this wasn't Detroit and its downed economy, nor the Lions and their decade of dubious dynasty that was in trouble.
Instead it was the Super Bowl champion Steelers, and their once dominating defense, which already had blown two fourth-quarter leads on the road, that was on shaky ground. And they were gasping as, of all teams, the Detroit Lions (1-3) mounted a comeback.
Then out of nowhere appeared an old friend to save them from the embarrassment of losing to the Lions, who lost them all last season. Blitzburgh, which inexplicably vanished in 2009, swooped in to end Detroit's upset plans, and the Steelers headed home happy with a 28-20 victory.
"We're still searching for the Steelers," said linebacker James Farrior, a defensive captain, as his team escaped Ford Field with its second consecutive victory to raise its record to 3-2.
The Steelers, ahead by 15 points late in the fourth quarter, allowed an 82-yard drive by the Lions that cut the margin to eight when Daunte Culpepper threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Northcutt with 4:57 left.
Then, with 1:54 left, the Lions found themselves with a first down at the Steelers' 21 and Operation Blitzburgh went into effect. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau ordered some blitzes, and the Steelers sacked Culpepper on three consecutive plays, pushing the Lions back to the 45 and, in essence, closing out a game that should have been put away much earlier.
James Harrison did not have any of those sacks, but he had three of the Steelers' seven yesterday.
"We dialed them up," safety Ryan Clark said. "A lot of other games we haven't been dialing up the pressures. Coach LeBeau just got aggressive. I guess he figured if we're going to get beat, if we're going to give up leads, let's give them up being who we are."
The Steelers have been wondering just who they are through the early part of the season after losing two in a row on the road after an opening victory. Their defense, uncharacteristically, became the culprit, blowing lead after lead. Even in the home victory against San Diego the previous Sunday the Chargers scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.
"It's tough ... but we can't blame anybody, we just have to get better," offensive tackle Willie Colon said.
The offense made it seem easy for a while, but also had its share of mistakes that allowed the Lions, 11-point underdogs, to stay close.
Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes, three to his teammates and one on a 38-yard interception return by Detroit cornerback William James. Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 15 yards to Heath Miller, 17 yards to Hines Ward and 47 yards to Mike Wallace.
One touchdown drive persevered after another Roethlisberger interception was waved off by a personal foul when he was hit in the lower legs after releasing the ball.
Rashard Mendenhall, who had another good day running with 77 yards on 15 carries, scored the Steelers' first touchdown on a neat 7-yard burst in which he beat the cornerback to the corner on the right side.
"As you continue to play and gain experience, you get better and better at what you do," said Mendenhall, who has 242 yards in his past two starts for injured Willie Parker.
Things might have gotten even more interesting at the end had Clark not stopped one Detroit drive by intercepting a Culpepper pass and had Jason Hanson not missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt, both in the third quarter.
Hanson kicked two field goals from 46 yards in the first half to go with James' interception return for a touchdown as the Lions trailed, 21-13, at the intermission. The Steelers went up 28-13 when Wallace broke open so fast and so deep that Roethlisberger's pass to the rookie speedster was slightly under thrown. Wallace, who sped past James, caught the ball at the 1 and tumbled into the end zone on the 47-yard play.
"I hesitated throwing it," Roethlisberger said. "I was looking for a safety. I said 'He can't be this open.' That's why it was a little underthrown, I was so surprised."
Despite throwing an interception for a score, Roethlisberger had another good day in a string of them this season. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 277 yards and a 123.9 passer rating.
He would have had another touchdown toss -- and the game might have been a blowout -- except Wallace dropped a pass when he was wide open at the Detroit 28 in the second quarter. The play might have gone for 71 yards had Wallace held on to the ball.
Two plays later, James intercepted Roethlisberger's pass for a Detroit touchdown and instead of 21-6 it was 14-13 in the second quarter.
"I still think about it," Wallace said in the locker room. "I could have given our team a [big] lead and the next play he picked it off, so I figured it was all my fault. We have to make sure we catch them."
The Lions managed 335 yards of offense to the Steelers' 344. Detroit did it by converting 11 of 18 third downs, many of them long ones. They also beat the Steelers at another part of their game, time of possession. Detroit ran 15 more plays and had the ball for 5 more minutes than the Steelers.
But there was no complete meltdown, just a finishing blitz by a defense that had almost forgotten that part of its arsenal.
"Guys just wanted to get home," Clark said.
First Published October 12, 2009 12:00 am