PITTSBURGH — I can hardly believe I’m typing these words, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are off life support, very much alive in the AFC playoff race.
And for as bleak as things appeared for the Steelers for a stretch Sunday afternoon, I must say the Steelers got back in the playoff hunt with a pretty solid showing in the 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions, all things considered.
Say what you will about Todd Haley, but the offense played well. The defense made an impressive second-half stand after a disastrous second quarter that had the New England debacle from two weeks ago written all over it. And it added up to the Steelers’ best win of the season.
There are two ways to look at the play of the offensive line. Some will say the line didn’t do enough and point to the 40 rushing yards they gained as proof.
That’s true, but Ben Roethlisberger was also 29 of 45 passing and shredded the Lions for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Most importantly, he was sacked just once and wasn’t running for his life on every play.
The play of right guard David DeCastro can’t be understated. Tasked with taking on Detroit man-child Ndamukong Suh, DeCastro made Suh an afterthought. With Marcus Gilbert’s help from time to time, the right side of the Steelers’ offensive line literally shut out Suh. He had no tackles, no assists. Nothing.
Defensively, the Steelers changed little in the second half. They just got “mentally aggressive” after halftime, said veteran cornerback Ike Taylor, who was beaten for a pair of touchdowns in the catastrophic second quarter.
The Lions piled up 27 points in the quarter to erase a 14-0 deficit and take a 27-20 halftime lead. It must have seemed like a greater deficit than seven points after such a quick-hitting barrage. It apparently did for a few hundred fans who left Heinz Field at halftime.
The roof appeared to be caving in on the Steelers’ season, and that’s when they delivered their best.
They blanked the Lions in the second half, even if they were aided by a call to go for a fake field goal that will be debated for a long time. They limited Matthew Stafford to 35 passing yards after halftime, none of them to Calvin Johnson.
Johnson was a spectator in the second half, making no catches while only being targeted three times.
The Steelers, one of the sorriest teams in the league this year at applying pressure on the quarterback, got to Stafford for two sacks, and they came up with three turnovers.
“When we don’t get (turnovers), we try to downplay it, and ‘We should still win the game,’” Ryan Clark said. “But when we do get them, you can see the difference it makes.”
The Steelers were set up deep in Detroit territory after two of the Lions’ three giveaways and scored 17 points off turnovers. Pittsburgh scored touchdowns after each of the Lions’ fourth-quarter turnovers, turning a 27-23 deficit into a 37-27 lead in a matter of eight minutes of game time.
Yeah, turnovers help. And if Ike Taylor had any kind of touch, the Steelers could have had four or five turnovers because Taylor dropped two sure interceptions. Again.
There were other miscues, like another bad day in the red zone. The Steelers were 1-for-4 in red-zone efficiency and were stuffed on three plays from the half-yard line on one of those possessions.
But on this day it didn’t matter. The Steelers were good enough to hang 37 on the Lions and could have rung up 50 if they were better in the red zone.
It was their best win of the year.