Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Steelers, Lions fail to capitalize on big plays, leading to first-half FG fest
1. So the Steelers and Lions chose NBC's Sunday Night Football stage to showcase a first-half field-goal festival.
No wonder NFL TV ratings are down.
The shame of the 12-10 halftime score, in favor of Detroit, was that both teams failed to capitalize on big plays.
The Steelers started their first possession with a 41-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster down the right sideline. Despite a third-and-2 at the Detroit 16, when Eli Rogers dropped a pass in the corner of the end zone, they failed to score a touchdown.
The Lions answered with a 43-yard pass down the left sideline to Marvin Jones Jr. but blew up in the red zone with back-to-back false-start penalties that turned a third-and-6 into a third-and-16.
Detroit also had a 33-yard pass to Jones on an eight-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a 6-3 lead, a 25-yard pass to T.J. Jones on a six-play, 42-yard drive that cut it to 10-9 and a 42-yard pass to T.J. Jones on an eight-play, 63-yard drive before halftime.
2. With Martavis Bryant benched against the Lions, the Steelers wasted no time getting Smith-Schuster involved in the pass game.
In addition to the 41-yarder on the first series, he caught an 18-yard pass on the second and had three catches for 61 yards in the first half, and an 18-yarder early in the third quarter.
Why couldn't the Steelers connect on deep balls?
Blame the quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger missed on several deep throws that could have blown the game wide open, starting with a Glover Quin interception when Big Ben overthrew Antonio Brown in the first quarter. Brown later bailed him out by adjusting to an off-target pass for a 40-yard catch to set up Bell's 5-yard touchdown run for a 10-6 second-quarter lead. But Roethlisberger also missed Justin Hunter a couple times and overthrew a wide-open Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone in the third quarter.
3. That's not to say Roethlisberger didn't have his moments, especially when he threaded the needle on a perfect pass to tight end Jesse James for a 32-yard gain.
But Bell fumbled on a third-and-1 at the 23, only the third of his career. Instead of stretching their lead to 17-9, the Steelers watched Matt Prater kick the go-ahead field goal for a 12-10 lead.
That's a 10-point swing, one the Steelers couldn't afford when they had to kick off to start the second half.
4. Here's the thing about these Steelers: They have a flair for flipping the script.
Just when the Lions drove 79 yards for a first-and-goal at the 4 and looked like they were going to score a touchdown, the Steelers came up with an impressive defensive stand.
They stopped the Lions three times from the 1, including a sack of Matthew Stafford by backup defensive end Tyson Alualu on fourth down for a turnover on downs.
And just when Roethlisberger renewed the concerns about his accuracy and arm strength, missing a wide-open James over the middle, he responded on the ensuing play with a perfect strike to Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard touchdown and a 20-12 lead. With that play, Big Ben became the first quarterback in NFL history with three touchdown passes of 94 yards or more.
By the way, here's what Heyward-Bey told me about JuJu this week: “He's an Anquan Boldin, Hines Ward type of player. He doesn't mind getting dirty in the run game. He's not the fastest person in the world, but he makes plays downfield. He's a solid football player. Who knows where that potential could go? We don't know. Only time will tell. But I think he has a bright future.”
I'd say that's spot on.
5. Giving Stafford the ball back with 4:55 remaining, even at his own 15, is a scary proposition.
The Lions quarterback, who completed 27 of 45 passes for 423 yards, drove his team to the Steelers' 6 on the strength of a 44-yard pass to tight end Eric Ebron.
Then Detroit self-destructed.
On first down, Stafford's pass fell incomplete. On second, he hit Golden Tate for 5 yards. On third-and-5 at the 6, the Lions decided to run Theo Riddick, and the result was a 2-yard loss. On fourth down, Stafford's sidearm pass was nearly intercepted by inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who could have returned it for a touchdown.
Detroit went 2 for 12 on third downs and 0 for 2 on fourth downs. They went for a touchdown when a field goal would have worked and a field goal when they needed a touchdown.
No wonder the Lions went 0 for 5 in the red zone,
No wonder they opted to kick five field goals.
No wonder the Steelers won.