The score: Pittsburgh 37, Detroit 27
The bottom line: Both quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers played their three best quarters of football this year – and their absolute worst single quarter – on Sunday and when the muck cleared at rainy Heinz Field they earned a bizarre 37-27 shootout victory that propels them back into the AFC Wild Card playoff picture, despite being two games under .500.
It was over when: Ziggy Hood was in the process of being blocked out of yet another play (this one on fourth down with 1:46 remaining) when Matt Stafford was flushed from the pocket and came scrambling by. Hood got a fistful of jersey and dragged the Detroit signal caller to the ground with one hand, sealing the deal, setting off a celebration by the 40,000 or so fans who hung around and putting the words “playoffs” and “Steelers” back in the same sentence much earlier than anyone would have guessed just two weeks ago.
Play of the day: The Steelers faced a 3rd-and-5 with 2:35 remaining while clinging to a three-point lead. Based on their red zone success in the game, it sure looked like a Shaun Suisham field goal was on deck, leaving the specter of a 34-33 Lions win looming. But Ben Roethlisberger faked a pump on a what looked like a wide receiver screen to Antonio Brown, then lofted a rainbow to Jericho Cotchery, who jogged into the end zone after both Lions’ defenders bit on the fake.
+ The good news is that the #6 playoff seed in the AFC will have a 5-5 record by the end of the weekend’s action, just one game ahead of the Steelers. The bad news is that there will be six teams between Pittsburgh and that #6 seed. The good news is that Pittsburgh plays three of those teams in the coming weeks. The bad news is that they’ve already lost to two of those teams. An early guess is that the #6 team will get in at 8-8, but 8-8 won’t be good enough for the Steelers to get in.
+ Every fake field goal or punt that didn’t work has been stupid. That’s all I have to say about that.
+ Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley are still struggling to figure out their running back situation when it doesn’t have to be so hard. Le’Veon Bell is our feature back. Jon Dwyer is your change of pace back and short-yardage specialist. He should remain the short-yardage specialist on every short-yardage situation until her fails to convert them regularly. Nothing to it.
+ Have you ever seen anything like that dynamic between the Lions offense and Steelers defense? First quarter, the big plays were there, but Matt Stafford overthrew two easy touchdowns. Second quarter, receivers running all alone, Calvin Johnson uncoverable, and Stafford was more accurate (also helped by Ike Taylor dropping two interceptions) in what might have been the most dominant offensive quarter I’ve ever seen in football at any level. Second half, Stafford was pinpoint accurate but rarely threw Megatron’s way (think he was targeted three times), Lions other receivers dropped some balls and Steelers coverage, especially by Bill Gay and Cortez Allen, was much better. That’ll be some interesting film to dissect.
+ The Steelers scored 37 points and survived TD drops by Bell and Heath Miller and a combo bad throw/slip missed TD between Roethlisberger and David Paulson. That should have been a 49.
Zebra hunting: Well-officiated game by Walt Anderson’s crew in tough conditions with teams getting chippy. Anderson himself did a good job briefly and clearly explaining a couple complex situations.
+ The Lions provided a textbook example on their first drive of what an offense should do when there’s a potential challenge on a big gain. Detroit clearly has a pre-determined play ready in such situations that Matt Stafford likely has the judgment to call. In this case, he got his team to the line and the play off before the first replay was shown at Heinz Field (and likely in the coaches’ booth). Hopefully, Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley were watching, because this is just one of the many game management fine points that Pittsburgh is terrible at executing.
+ That said, the Steelers did a pretty decent job getting to the line quickly after a questionable Cotchery catch in the third quarter, forcing Jim Schwartz to throw a challenge flag before he could see a replay. He turned out to be right, but not because Pittsburgh gave him time to be sure.
+ FOX made a big deal about the Steelers’ play selection, resulting in a quick three-and-out with just under 2:00 remaining in the first half, but that was somewhat misguided. While the Steelers’ bumbling was certainly ugly, it doesn’t change the fact that the Lions had all three timeouts left.
In the booth:
+ Hey, Thom Brenneman is really good. Solid on the basics, sports a cool sweater vest, sets the analyst up nicely, corrects him gently when he needs to do it. Speaking of which…
+ On the Reggie Bush fumble in the second quarter, Brian Billick was just going to leave it at “no one really hit him, the ball just came out” when Brenneman finally chimed in to note the video actually showed Will Allen punching the ball out.
+ Billick should have to forfeit his game check for using the term “vaunted Steelers pass rush” in the first half. Is there anything that says “I don’t really prepare for games, I just throw out a bunch of conventional wisdom claptrap” more than that?
+ Nothing personal against Laura Okmin, but when she tells me Emmanuel Sanders is out with a foot injury almost 25 minutes AFTER Twitter told me Emmanuel Sanders was out with a foot injury, you have to question what value she brought to the broadcast.
A word from our sponsors: What a great concept for the Ford “And/Or” spots! The best execution so far is the swimming pool “nuts or bolts” one where the small details make the spot: the young boy floating out on an innertube and the father waving helplessly as he goes by. Hopefully, there are more versions of that on the way.
Sweet tweet: “@JoryRand: And Stafford fails in three attempts to throw an interception.” Blogger’s note: One of those was a possible 98-yard Pick 6 for Stone Hands Ike, but the larger point driven home in this game is that no one can stop Calvin Johnson except Matt Stafford.
Next week: The Steelers hop on the bus to Cleveland to face the under-the-radar improving Browns, who have one of the best young defenses in the league and will be smarting after a poor performance at Cincinnati.