Week 17 Game Recap: Detroit Lions 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 35
What you need to know
With nothing left to play for except for perhaps their jobs in 2006, the Detroit Lions showed up to Heinz Field representing some semblance of a football team striving for success. They nearly out gained the Pittsburgh Steelers (334-317, Steelers) and kept pace offensively for almost three full quarters. Joey Harrington, in what could be his last game as a Lion, looked like the quarterback he was supposed to be a year ago, throwing for 212 yards and three touchdowns. After a typical rocky start, he began to use the middle of the field to near perfection while engineering two first quarter touchdown drives. He then rallied the team down from two scores for another successful drive in the third quarter with a deep fade pass to Roy Williams, cutting the lead to 28-21.
While Harrington just about matched his best game of the year statistically, he showed many signs of why he’s struggled this year with his accuracy, but he certainly did enough to entertain job offers for next year as he helped the Lions score their most points on the road all season, convert %59 of their third down conversions (10-17) lead the Steelers in time of possession (17:52 to 12:08) and total yards (222-88) in the first half.
Marcus Pollard, who scored the first Lions’ touchdown, had four receptions and 50 yards. Scott Vines added four receptions for 44 yards and Roy Williams had 31 yards and a score. Shawn Bryson led Detroit with 63 yards receiving.
Kevin Jones, marred by injuries three of the last four games, also looked like the running back everyone knew he could be, grinding out 78 yards on 18 carries, showing good power and quick agility in bouncing outside for consistent yardage. Even without his long gain of 12, he still averaged 3.9 yards per carry against a team that had only given up 54 and 55 yards rushing and 3.0 ypc over the last two games.
Detroit’s defense, typically known for playing tough despite its offensive woes, was its own worst enemy yesterday as it they allowed 199 yards rushing, 4.5 yards per carry and four touchdowns on the ground. However they can be credited with holding Ben Roethlisberger to his worst game of the year statistically (34.1 rating), picking off two passes and allowing him to complete just 44% of his throws.
The Steelers may not have figured on much of a fight from the Lions, but when it was evident that the their opponent wouldn’t lay down and help hand Pittsburgh the final AFC playoff berth, the Steelers got in gear and did what they do best – run, run and run some more. The Steelers racked up 199 rushing yards led by Willie Parker with another solid game of 135 yards. Jerome Bettis, facing possible retirement at years end, went out with a bang with three touchdowns and 41 yards in what might be his last game in Pittsburgh.
Without the running game, Ben Roethlisberger might have had to carry the load, and it’s a good thing he didn’t as he logged his worst passing game of the year, completing just seven of 16 for 135 yards and two interceptions. In his defense, his receivers dropped a combined six passes in the first half, one in the end zone, the others all for first down yardage or more. His interceptions, however, were just plain poor throws, one into double coverage and behind the target, while the other was late on a slant route.
Heath Miller’s 43 yard reception was enough to put him on top of the receiver chain as he totaled 62 yards on three catches. Hines Ward had a 40 yard reception, which put him 25 yards shy of his fifth consecutive 1,000 yard season; although his two dropped passes would have likely put him over that mark.
The Steelers defense uncharacteristically had a tough time with the Lions passing game, especially over the middle of the field in giving up 212 yards to the much maligned Joey Harrington. They would rally and give up just 22 yards and one first down over the final three Detroit possessions after previously allowing three touchdowns and 15 first downs on the first seven. Their special teams made up for the defense’s early woes with 202 kick/punt return yards including an 81 yard punt return for a touchdown by Antwaan Randle El early in the first quarter.
What you ought to know
While it might be too little too late for Joey Harrington in Detroit, he had his second best game of the season in throwing for 212 yards and three touchdowns. More impressively it came against the leagues third best defense, one that had only allowed 12 points over its last three games. Harrington started off erratic, but came out a different player on the Lions’ second drive, completing three of four including an 11 yard touchdown pass to Marcus Pollard on a corner route over top loose coverage by LB James Farrior. Harrington followed by converting four of his next five passes including a 63 yarder to Shawn Bryson and a one yard play action pass to Cory Schlesinger to give the Lions a 14-7 lead. But despite throwing a nice rainbow fade pass to Roy Williams for his third touchdown in the third quarter, Harrington still showed signs of trouble periodically, including inconsistencies throwing to the sidelines, and he also lucked out of three potential interceptions that were dropped. Nevertheless, he made it out of the game without turning the ball over for just his third start all year.
|RB Kevin Jones, Rush: 18 - 78 - 0, Rec: 1 - 2 - 0 (3 targets)|
Not only had Jones missed three of the last four weeks with an elbow injury, he’s also been banged up with a shoulder injury and various other ailments that prevented him from displaying the kind of explosion he did in the late 2004 season. But he ended this campaign with a strong performance against the NFL’s top rushing defense with 78 yards on 18 carries. It was his third best game in terms of yards and the most carries he had seen since Oct. 30 versus Chicago. Jones showed good power while taking on several hard shots in between the tackles, as well as some elusiveness in turning the corner down the sidelines. His long of 12 yards put the Lions on the 11 yard line to set up their first touchdown. No one carry was spectacular which in this case is a good thing as it was a sign of consistency, something he hadn’t shown much of this year since he was typically surrounded by the medical staff.
|RB Paul Smith, Rush: 2 - 5 - 0, Rec: 2 - 16 - 0 (4 targets)|
Smith matched his season total rushing attempts with two for five yards. He added 11 yards on two receptions, but he dropped a pass deep in the red zone down the sidelines as it bounced off his helmet in single coverage.
|RB Shawn Bryson, Rush: 3 - 11 - 0, Rec: 1 - 63 - 0 (1 targets)|
Bryson backed up Jones with 11 yards on three carries, but got all of his 63 receiving yards on one play when he followed Harrington’s lead on a roll out, shook himself loose from his block to catch a floating runner pass and take off down the sidelines to the Steelers’ 20 yard line. He also drew a 15 yard facemask penalty, which set up Detroit on Pittsburgh’s five, and they scored two plays later.
Schlesinger scored his first touchdown of the season when he caught a one yard pass in the right flat for Detroit’s second touchdown of the game.
Vines had four receptions and 44 yards with a long of 19, but he and Joey Harrington had a hard time hooking up along the sidelines, with Harrington missing wide more often than not. Vines was often looked to as the hot route against the blitz, but without much time to set up, a few passes sailed out of bounds.
Williams had a sub par day statistically but came up with a leaping grab on a deep fade route in the third quarter for a touchdown. On the play, he got behind rookie cornerback Bryant McFadden, who was expecting help from the safety, and hauled in the pass in the front left corner of the end zone just before the help arrived. Williams also had a 20 yard reception on a slant called back after Kevin Jones was called for illegal motion. Williams also broke up an interception as he slapped the ball out of Troy Polamalu’s hands in the second quarter.
While Harrington was struggling to complete passes along the outside, Pollard helped provide a big target over the middle as he helped move the chains with all four of his catches. He caught two passes on the Lions first scoring drive, one for 27 yards over the middle on third and 19 and the second two plays later on a corner route for an 11 yard touchdown.
Hanson made all three extra point attempts.
The Lions held the Steelers to 88 first half yards, and even though 52 of them were on the ground, they prevented Pittsburgh from controlling the game and the clock with the power running game. Once they gave up a two touchdown lead, however, they allowed an additional 147 second half yards on the ground. All four Steelers’ touchdowns came from handoffs, three from five yards or less to Jerome Bettis, and one to Ben Roethlisberger on a seven yard scramble. LeVar Woods led the Lions with 11 total tackles.
While the Lions secondary held Roethlisberger to 135 yards passing and picked him off twice, a decent portion of that could be credited to six dropped passes that could have gained as much as 50 plus additional yards and a touchdown. Safety Bracy Walker had eight total tackles and an interception as the Steelers were trying to score to end the first half. Andre Goodman had the other interception and James Hall had five solo tackles and a sack.
If there was ever a day to have a 34.1 rating, the second lowest of his career, this was the day when the running game supplied 199 yards of offense to help support the paltry 135 passing yards on just seven completions and two interceptions. Granted, Roethlisberger was the victim of six dropped passes, including one to Hines Ward for a touchdown, but he was clearly not as sharp as he had been in recent games throwing behind and late to targets on both interceptions. To add further speculation to the fire, Roethlisberger was seeking medical attention after he dove into the end zone for the Steelers fifth and final score of the day in the third quarter. He returned and finished the game but attempted just two passes, one of which was intercepted. No injuries were reported after the game. He has five touchdown passes and four interceptions this year against next week’s playoff opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
|RB Willie Parker, Rush: 26 - 135 - 0, Rec: 1 - 17 - 0 (1 targets)|
Parker picked up where he left off, cutting, slashing and dashing his way to 135 yards on 26 carries (5.1 avg.) This time, however, he didn’t have an 80 yard run to beef up his numbers, but rather several 5-10 yard runs with a long of 21. He also caught a screen pass well behind the line of scrimmage, but turned on the burners and turned the sideline corner for 17 yards receiving. His 94 second half yards helped the Steelers take a 20:33 to 9:27 time of possession advantage. Parker’s 1,202 rushing yards are the most for a Pittsburgh running back since Jerome Bettis had 1,341 during the 2000 season.
Prior to the game Bettis said that he wanted to make his unconfirmed last game at Heinz Field a memorable one. Several standing ovations later, Bettis was the key component in the victory with touchdown runs of one, five and four yards. His first score was on a fourth and one, bouncing off the initial tackle before plunging forward to tie the game at 14. He got the call again on a second and three from Detroit’s five when he took the ball right up the gut untouched to the goal line and once again from the four yard line while diving forward after initial contact. Bettis also converted three key third down conversions in the fourth quarter to put the finishing touches on the Lions, and possibly an exclamation mark on his career.
Haynes played mostly meaningless downs with the game wrapped up in the fourth quarter.
Randle El also dropped an easy pass from Roethlisberger, off his hands and into a Lion defender for an interception to end the first half, but he had a get out of jail free card thanks to his 81 yard punt return for a touchdown early in the first quarter. Typically criticized for trying one too many moves, Randle El made a swift decision to run straight ahead and darted to the right sideline where he raced past the punter and into the end zone. He had one catch for 13 yards and one rush for one yard on and end around.
Ward came just 25 yards shy of his fifth consecutive 1,000 yard season with just one catch for 40 yards. Had he held on to two easy catches in the first half, he likely would have surpassed that milestone, as well as tie his career high for touchdowns, but one bounced off his arms as he attempted to corral a pass over the middle, but an interference call helped erase the play, and the other bounced right off his hands in the end zone for an easy touchdown. Of course, Ward’s 40 yard reception was one of his best as he slipped in between the coverage for the catch and then dragged two tacklers to the five yard line to help set up Bettis’ third touchdown run. He extended his streak to 119 games with at least one reception.
Wilson didn’t want to be left out this holiday season, so he too dropped an easy slant pass from Roethlisberger that would have been good for a first down and then some. It was his only target.
Morgan showed his inconsistent ways as he caught and then dropped two very easy passes on consecutive drives in the first half. His first one he had complete control before losing the ball on contact with the turf and the second one he just let slip out his hands, but was saved after being interfered with on the play. He was later open on a slant pattern in the fourth quarter, but the throw was late and intercepted. He added 60 kick return yards.
Miller did not drop a pass and in fact had the longest catch of the day when he ran up the left seam past zone coverage to catch and run for 43 yards to the Detroit 11 yard line, setting up Roethlisberger’s seven yard touchdown run.
Reed converted all five of his extra point attempts.
The Steelers allowed 105 total yards rushing, but looked a little soft in doing so, as Kevin Jones fell forward and through tackles rather than backwards in gaining yards on 18 carries for a 4.3 ypc average. They head to Cincinnati next week, where they’ve allowed Rudi Johnson to 5.4 and 4.7 yards per carry in their two previous matches. Troy Polamalu had 11 total tackles, most of which were on run support, including a forced fumble late in the second quarter in which he tracked down FB Paul Smith from behind and punched the ball loose for the turnover.
Pittsburgh’s secondary played sound along the outside versus the wide receivers, but were vulnerable over the middle and were exploited often during the first half. Joey Harrington had 175 of his 212 passing yards in the first half and threw for three touchdowns, all on broken coverages or miscommunications. They’ll have to right that ship in a hurry going up against the high octane Bengals next week. James Farrior had nine tackles and a sack.