JuJu Smith-Schuster scores record-long TD, Steelers hold off Lions
DETROIT — JuJu Smith-Schuster went a long way across the Ford Field turf Sunday night, and he didn't need the most famous bike in recent Pittsburgh sports history to do it.
The rookie wide receiver scooted 97 yards on a catch-and-run that represented the longest pass reception in Steelers history, and the Steelers held on for a 20-15 victory against the Detroit Lions in a nationally televised showcase.
Smith-Schuster's play with 3 minutes, 1 second left in the third quarter provided a 20-12 lead and came less than 90 seconds after the Steelers stopped the Lions twice inside the 1-yard line with a goal-line stand.
The win was the third in a row for the Steelers, whose 6-2 record is tops in the AFC heading into their bye week. They also lead the Baltimore Ravens by two games in the division at the midpoint of the season.
Steelers long snapper Kameron Canaday works out in a spotlight before a game against the Lions Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, at Ford Field in Detroit. For more images from Week 8, visit the Trib's photo gallery.
Photo by Christopher Horner
Smith-Schuster had seven receptions for 193 yards, his big game coming on a night when No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant was benched by coach Mike Tomlin for social media comments that partially were aimed at the rookie receiver.
"He's playing like a seasoned veteran, and he's fun to watch," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "Maybe he's just too young and too silly and too fun to know any better."
Smith-Schuster celebrated the touchdown by running to the sideline and using a chain purchased earlier in the day to lock down the team's stationary bike. It was an homage to the theft and subsequent return of Smith-Schuster's bike that he rides to and from practice until he gets his driver's license.
"A lot of people say he's young, and he's immature," Smith-Schuster said. "I'm 20 years old. When I'm on the field playing with my boys, I'm getting the job done."
The Steelers got the job done despite allowing 423 passing yards — easily a season high — by Matt Stafford. But they made enough plays inside the red zone — including three stops from the 1 on two second-half drives — to get the win.
The Lions managed just five field goals from Matt Prater and fell to 3-4 with their third consecutive loss.
"We didn't want to give them anything easy," nose tackle Javon Hargrave said.
The Lions also were stopped on fourth down from the Steelers' 8 in the final two minutes. After a change of possession, a pass interference call helped the Steelers run out the clock after a shovel pass to Smith-Schuster.
Roethlisberger passed for 317 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Le'Veon Bell had 76 yards rushing and a touchdown but lost a fumble late in the first half that helped the Lions take a 12-10 lead. The Steelers also lost a touchdown catch by Antonio Brown because of his offensive pass inteference and were 1 of 3 inside the red zone.
"Offensively at least, it feels like that's been the story of our season so far," Roethlisberger said. "Going into the bye at 6-2 feels really good. It can be frustrating at times offensively because we're not executing like we want to, but we're finding ways to win football games."
After Brown's pass interference penalty, the Steelers settled for Chris Boswell's 38-yard field goal that caromed through after hitting the right upright for a 13-12 lead midway through the third quarter.
What followed was a goal-line stand that kept the one-point lead intact and turned the tide of the game. Stafford moved the Lions from their 17 to the Steelers' 1. On third-and-goal, Hargrave and Vince Williams stopped Dwayne Washington for no gain. Bypassing a go-ahead field goal, Lions coach Jim Caldwell put the ball in Stafford's hands on fourth down. Stafford was pressured and tried to move up in the pocket. Tyson Alualu dropped him for a 1-yard loss.
"That was a must stop," Hargrave said. "It was real big, one of those plays we needed to have on red-zone defense there."
Three plays later, on third-and-9 from the 3, Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster pulled off the longest pass play in Steelers history. Smith-Schuster broke free of cornerback Quandre Diggs, caught the pass at the Steelers' 28 and took off with no defenders in front of him. He outraced Diggs and Glover Quin the final 72 yards to the end zone.
The Steelers tried a similar pass play earlier in the game, but Smith-Schuster tried to deke the defender to no avail.
"I told him the next time you get that look, beat them with speed," Roethlisberger said. "Just get down there, and that's what he did."
Stafford moved the Lions inside the Steelers' 5 one more time. Again, the defense held firm. Washington carried twice from inside the 4. When he was stopped at the 1 on third down, Caldwell elected to send Prater on the field.
Prater kicked his fifth field goal, a 19-yarder, to pull the Lions within 20-15 with 12:54 remaining. Artie Burns recovered a fumble in Steelers territory to snuff out one drive, but Stafford refused to quit.
He moved the Lions to the Steelers' 11 with 2:55 remaining after a 44-yard completion to Eric Ebron. On third-and-5 from the 6, Theo Riddick was stopped for a 2-yard loss.
On fourth down from the 8, Stafford threw incomplete, Ryan Shazier dropping a sure-thing interception.
"Sometimes those guys get paid, too," Shazier said. "I feel like we did what we had to do to get the win."
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.