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Steelers storm past Lions to keep postseason hopes alive

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Passing grade

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's statistics in Sunday's 37-27 win over the Lions:

Attempts 45

Completions 29

Yards 367

Touchdowns 4

Interceptions 0

Rating 119.4

By Alan Robinson
Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 4:51 p.m.
 

They are, for better or worse, the indecipherable Steelers.

From week to week, sometimes from minute to minute, they don't seem to know whether they're destined for a comeback from an 0-4 start or for a top-10 draft pick.

They can play with the best some days, lose to the worst the next. One instant they're giving up yardage in record lengths, the next they're giving up barely an inch.

All the things that are good about the Steelers — and all that are bad — showed up Sunday in a must-win 37-27 victory over the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field that couldn't have started or ended much better or gone much worse in the middle.

“We were up. We were down,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “There was no quit in anybody.”

The Steelers (4-6) probably could have quit on the game and a season that seems to dangle precariously from quarter to quarter, especially during a Lions offensive onslaught in the second quarter.

The Lions (6-4) came in with the NFC North lead, then seemed determined to give it away as soon as possible as Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes of 34 and 47 yards to Antonio Brown in a span of less than three minutes. Brown finished with seven catches for 147 yards.

Previously outscored 64-19 in the first quarter, the Steelers found themselves owning a rare, early 14-0 lead.

But in a flash, they fell apart defensively much like they did during that game-ending 31-7 outburst by New England two weeks ago.

With Matthew Stafford throwing for 267 yards in the second quarter alone, including touchdowns of 79 and 19 yards to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and David Akers adding two field goals, the Lions surged back to take a 27-20 halftime lead.

Every point they scored and nearly every meaningful yard the Lions gained all afternoon came during a stretch of 14 minutes, 15 seconds in the second quarter.

“But I don't think there was any panic at halftime,” safety Troy Polamalu said.

It all flipped during the second half, just like a week ago when the Steelers rebounded after allowing a record 610 yards to the Patriots to hold the Buffalo Bills without a touchdown until the closing seconds of a 23-10 win.

Johnson, who looked unstoppable while catching six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, didn't make another catch.

“They weren't drawing up any great schematic things,” Polamalu said. “We just did our jobs better.”

Stafford, who had 327 yards passing by halftime, was an inexplicable 3 of 16 for 35 yards during a second half in which the Steelers outgained the Lions, 172-72.

“We weathered that storm,” said Roethlisberger, who wasn't referring to the rainy day or the seemingly never-ending controversy about his future with the team. “They are a great team. We just found a way to get it done.”

They got it done partly because of a bold but ultimately bad decision by Lions coach Jim Schwartz to pass on a seemingly easy 27-yard field goal try that would have made it 30-23.

Instead, rookie holder Sam Martin took off with the ball toward a gap in the Steelers' defense that was closed quickly by 325-pound nose tackle Steve McLendon.

“When you look at it initially, it was a big hole,” Martin said.

Much like the hole the Steelers were staring at when they lost their first four games. They've climbed back onto the fringe of the AFC wild-card race by winning four of six, but they still probably need to win five of their remaining six to have a chance.

At least five teams remain an obstacle in the race for what appears to be one wild-card spot.

“It just feels great right now,” Roethlisberger said. “I don't care what happened around the league because all we can control is what we control.”

Games against AFC North rivals Cleveland (4-6) on Sunday and Baltimore (4-6) on Thanksgiving in a five-day stretch might tell whether the Steelers will have anything to play for in December.

“Obviously there is no time to wear our hands out patting ourselves on the back,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

The biggest turnaround wasn't necessarily how the Steelers shut down what looked to be an unstoppable Lions offense but how they produced touchdowns rather than field goals on their two most important drives of the game.

Taking the ball at their own 3 following the Lions' failed fake field goal, they used up more than eight minutes on a 97-yard drive that ended with Roethlisberger's 1-yard, play-action touchdown throw to fullback Will Johnson.

Then, after backup safety Will Allen intercepted Stafford, Roethlisberger (29 of 45, 367 yards, four touchdowns) came back with a 20-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery, who made his fifth touchdown catch in three weeks.

It was typical of this atypical Steelers season. There is never any indication of what they will do next.

“We'll take it and move forward,” Tomlin said.

That's about all they can ask for.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - The Steelers defense huddles around safety Will Allen after his fourth-quarter interception against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 37-27.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers defense huddles around safety Will Allen after his fourth-quarter interception against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 37-27.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers fullback Will Johnson pulls in the winning touchdown against the Lions in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers fullback Will Johnson pulls in the winning touchdown against the Lions in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Ziggy Hood sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Ziggy Hood sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons takes off after recovering a first-quarter fumble against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons takes off after recovering a first-quarter fumble against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Ziggy Hood (96) celebrates his sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Ziggy Hood (96) celebrates his sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Lions receiver Calvin Johnson makes a diving catch at the 5-yard line to set up a field goal during the second quarter against the Steelers on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Lions receiver Calvin Johnson makes a diving catch at the 5-yard line to set up a field goal during the second quarter against the Steelers on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Lions receiver Calvin Johnson breaks away from Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor to score during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Lions receiver Calvin Johnson breaks away from Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor to score during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reacts after watching the Lions go ahead during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reacts after watching the Lions go ahead during the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Will Allen returns a fourth-quarter interception against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 37-27.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Will Allen returns a fourth-quarter interception against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 37-27.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery says the team just has to keep going on and fightng to win games.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery says the team just has to keep going on and fightng to win games.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Jarvis Jones knocks down a fourth-quarter pass by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Jarvis Jones knocks down a fourth-quarter pass by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers coach Mike Tomlin cheers on the defense after they held the Lions to a field goal in the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers coach Mike Tomlin cheers on the defense after they held the Lions to a field goal in the second quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Markus Wheaton celebrates with Jerricho Cotchery after Cotchery's fourth-quarter touchdown catch againt the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Markus Wheaton celebrates with Jerricho Cotchery after Cotchery's fourth-quarter touchdown catch againt the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Will Allen breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Lions' Kris Durham on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Will Allen breaks up a fourth-quarter pass intended for the Lions' Kris Durham on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets away from the Lions' C.J. Mosley in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger gets away from the Lions' C.J. Mosley in the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery pulls in a fourth-quarter touchdown behind the Lions' DeJon Gomes on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery pulls in a fourth-quarter touchdown behind the Lions' DeJon Gomes on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell outsprints Lions defender Stephen Tulloch during a second-quarter run Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell outsprints Lions defender Stephen Tulloch during a second-quarter run Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Heinz Field.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger jumps into his offensive line after throwing a first-quarter touchdown against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger jumps into his offensive line after throwing a first-quarter touchdown against the Lions on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Steelers tight end Heath Miller catches a pass in front of the Lions' Don Carey during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers tight end Heath Miller catches a pass in front of the Lions' Don Carey during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Steelers receiver Antonio Brown scores past the Lions' Glover Quin (27) and Chris Houston during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers receiver Antonio Brown scores past the Lions' Glover Quin (27) and Chris Houston during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Steelers cornerback William Gay breaks up a pass intended for Lions receiver Kevin Ogletree during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers cornerback William Gay breaks up a pass intended for Lions receiver Kevin Ogletree during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Steelers receiver Antonio Brown eludes the Lions' DeAndre Levy (54) and Louis Delmas to score his first touchdown during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers receiver Antonio Brown eludes the Lions' DeAndre Levy (54) and Louis Delmas to score his first touchdown during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Steelers safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor break up a pass in the end zone intended for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor break up a pass in the end zone intended for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds sacks Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.
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