Steelers stuff Lions with big play, red-zone defense
DETROIT — Scoring touchdowns from close range seemed like a nearly impossible feat in the Pittsburgh-Detroit game on Sunday night. It took the longest pass play in Steelers history to decide it.
Ben Roethlisberger connected with rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 97-yard touchdown in the third quarter and the Steelers held off the Lions 20-15 at Ford Field.
Smith-Schuster got behind cornerback Quandre Diggs on third down, caught Roethlisberger’s pass at the Steelers’ 28 and streaked to the end zone. That allowed Pittsburgh to take an eight-point lead.
When Smith-Schuster faced similar coverage earlier in the game, he tried to juke his defender and make an out move before heading up the field. Roethlisberger offered some advice.
“I told him, ‘Look, next time you get that look, beat them with your speed,’” said Roethlisberger, who completed 17 of 31 passes for 317 yards. “That’s what he did. I threw it over the top and I told him (afterward) I didn’t know he had that much speed. He said he didn’t, either.”
Smith-Schuster hauled in seven of Rothlisberger’s passes for 193 yards.
“A lot of people say he’s young, he’s immature, he’s 20 years old,” Smith-Schuster said. “But when I’m on the field playing with my boys, I’m getting the job done.”
Le’Veon Bell rushed for 76 yards on 25 carries, including a 5-yard touchdown, for the Steelers (6-2).
A big play was needed because both teams struggled in the red zone. Pittsburgh was 1-for-3, while Detroit went 0-for-5.
Matthew Stafford completed 27 of 45 passes for 423 yards for the Lions (3-4), but they couldn’t score a touchdown. Detroit drove inside the Steelers’ 10 on three second-half possessions, but came away with just a field goal.
“It wasn’t a lot of celebration,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of the red-zone stops. “We appreciated those moments, but we knew probably we’d have to do it again.”
Matt Prater accounted for all of Detroit’s points with five field goals.
“We just didn’t execute,” Stafford said. “We were close on a lot of plays, whether I missed a throw by an inch or two or we didn’t catch a ball, or whatever it is. It’s obviously frustrating to get down there and not come away with points twice.”
The Lions had won their last five games after a bye week.
“It’s annoying because, I mean, we’ve got a good kicker, but we’ve got a good offense, too,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “We’ve got to score. We’ve got guys that can score. We’ve got guys who, if we put them in the right position, they can make big plays for us down there. We’ve just got to find a way to do that.”
Chris Boswell’s 38-yard field goal, which banked off the right upright, put Pittsburgh on top 13-12 in the third quarter. The Lions drove down the field when they got the ball back, but stalled at the Steelers’ 1. Stafford was dropped for a 1-yard loss by defensive lineman Tyson Alualu on fourth down.
The Steelers’ historic pass play made it 20-12.
Prater’s 19-yard field goal with 12:54 remaining pulled Detroit within five.
Golden Tate fumbled away the ball after a 34-yard completion to end the Lions’ next drive.
Detroit got the ball back on its 15 with 4:55 left. Tight end Eric Ebron’s 44-yard reception moved the Lions to the Pittsburgh 11. On fourth-and-7, Stafford was pressured and threw an incompletion.
Smith-Schuster’s final reception gave Pittsburgh a clinching first down.
Prater kicked four first-half field goals to give the Lions a 12-10 halftime lead.
NOTES: Steelers WR Martavis Bryant, who complained about his limited usage on social media, was inactive. ... Pittsburgh T Marcus Gilbert (hamstring) and DE Stephon Tuitt (back) were also inactive. Detroit WR Kenny Golladay (hamstring) missed his fourth consecutive game and T Greg Robinson (ankle) also sat out. ... Lions G T.J. Lang made his 100th career start. ... Pittsburgh has won nine of the last 10 meetings, though the teams hadn’t squared off since 2013. ... The Lions head to Green Bay next week for a Monday night showdown. The Steelers have a bye week.