By Teresa Varley
The Steelers were able to hold off a late surge by the Detroit Lions to come away with a 28-20 win at Ford Field.
The win improves their record to 3-2 and keeps them right in the hunt in the AFC North.
The defense allowed a late touchdown, but on the final drive was all over Lions quarterback Dante Culpepper, sacking him on three consecutive plays to keep them out of the end zone.
"We executed in detail. That's all it is," said coach Mike Tomlin. "We've got to find ways to have great detail. If you have great detail splash plays happen. We put together some rush combinations at the end with some great detail and energy and some good coverage on the back end and were able to finish the game out. It's kind of a signature of winning football, winning defense and we were able to do it today."
Ben Roethlisberger had completed 23 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including one to rookie Mike Wallace, the first of his career. Rashard Mendenhall started again for the injured Willie Parker, finishing with 15 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.
The offense opened with a five-yard completion from Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, but that would be all they could muster early. Roethlisberger couldn't connect with a well-covered Heath Miller and on third down Limas Sweed couldn't hang on to the ball.
It was a different story for the Lions on their opening drive. Culpepper was sacked for a six-yard loss by James Harrison, but on third-and-11 scrambled and got free for a 32-yard gain. Culpepper mishandled the snap on the next play, but was able to recover the ball. He once again was faced with third-and-long, and came through again with a 16-yard completion to Maurice Morris. But they weren't able to convert their next third down, bringing on Jason Hanson for a 46-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
An undeterred Steelers offense came storming right back. Roethlisberger hit Mendenhall for a nine-yard gain and then Mendenhall broke loose for a 27-yard run to the Lions 28-yard line. Roethlisberger found Ward for a 21-yard gain and it was Mendenhall who took it in the end zone with ease on a seven-yard carry to go on top 7-3.
Kevin Smith took it around left end for seven yards for the Lions, and came back on third-and-one with a four-yard gain. Culpepper kept it rolling with a 17-yard completion to Bryant Johnson and Jerome Fenton got in gear on a 27-yard reception. The Steelers brought pressure, forcing Culpepper to throw the ball away, which cost them. Culpepper was called for intentional grounding, a 16-yard penalty and loss of down. Smith was hit by Travis Kirschke for a four-yard loss and on third down Culpepper threw incomplete to Dennis Northcutt. Hanson hit his second 46-yard field goal of the game, brining the Lions to within one at 7-6.
A huge break on the next drive kept the Steelers in control. On third-and-four from the Lions 45-yard line Eric King intercepted Roethlisberger, a play that could have been a huge shift in the momentum. But defensive tackle Landon Cohen was called for roughing the passer, hitting Roethlisberger below the knees. With new life Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes for 11 yards and Mendenhall took it for nine yards. Mendenhall took it in the end zone for a five-yard score, but the play was called back for a holding call on Matt Spaeth. It was right back to the end zone on the next play when Roethlisberger hit Miller over the middle, and the big tight end fought his way for the 15-yard touchdown, going up 14-6.
After the defense stopped the Lions forcing a three-and-out, it would be the Lions defense that would come up big. William James intercepted Roethlisberger and took it back 38 yards for a touchdown to once again pull within one at 14-13.
Stefan Logan gave the Steelers great field position, taking the kickoff at the one-yard line and taking it 47 yards. Miller took control with three big receptions on the drive, for 10, 11 and nine yards. It was Ward whose number was called next, as he battled for a 17-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 21-13.
The Lions had a chance to cut the lead early in the second half, but Hanson, who already hit two long field goals, missed from 49 yards out.
Taking over at their own 39-yard line the Steelers were able to pick up where they left off in the first half. Roethlisberger completed short passes to Ward and Mewelde Moore for a first down at the 47-yard line. Roethlisberger aired it out from there and Wallace, who let one slip through his fingers earlier in the game, wasn't about to let this one get away as he pulled it in for his first NFL touchdown, putting the Steelers up 28-13.
Another Lions drive came up empty after they took it all the way down to the Steelers 28-yard line. Culpepper mishandled the snap, recovered, and looked to throw the ball away, but safety Ryan Clark was the only one in the vicinity and came up with the interception at the 22-yard line.
The Steelers weren't able to do anything once they had the ball and it was back and forth until the Lions started to roar back.
Culpepper drove the Lions from their own 18-yard line, moving the ball all the way down the field where he hit Northcutt for a 25-yard touchdown to close the gap to 28-20.
After holding the Steelers to a three-and-out, the Lions got the ball back with a shot at a comeback. But the defense stepped up huge. On first-and-10 Culpepper was sacked by LaMarr Woodley and William Gay for a six-yard loss. Gay sacked Culpepper for a five-yard loss on the next play and Lawrence Timmons got in on the act, sacking Culpepper for a 13-yard loss back to the 45-yard line. On fourth down Culpepper aired it out for Northcutt, but Ike Taylor was able to knock the ball away to secure the win.