Sunday wasn't a tale of two halves for the Detroit Lions. Instead, it was a tale of quarters. To be specific, it was a tale of what happened in the second quarter -- pure domination by the Lions -- and a tale of just how bad they were in the other three quarters. They looked unstoppable for a brief stretch on Sunday, but other than that there wasn't much to like about the way the Lions played in a 37-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions got a wild first half started in typical fashion. They were able to drive down the field and into Pittsburgh territory thanks to a 17-yard pass to Reggie Bush on third-and-2 and a 14-yard pass to Joseph Fauria on third-and-7, but the drive stalled after that. Matthew Stafford missed an open Bush on third-and-3, and Calvin Johnson dropped the ball on fourth-and-3. Yes, the Lions decided to go for it at the Pittsburgh 31.
The Steelers responded to the stop on fourth down with a scoring drive that was way, way too easy. They moved the chains twice on third down, and on the eighth play of the drive, Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown, who broke a couple tackles for a 34-yard touchdown. Poor tackling was a problem throughout the drive, and it was a problem again after the Lions went three-and-out. On only the fourth play of Pittsburgh's next drive, Roethlisberger again found Brown, who zoomed by Louis Delmas en route to a 47-yard touchdown. Suddenly, the Lions were in a 14-0 hole.
In need of something positive, the Lions got a couple big plays from Joique Bell. He moved the chains on third-and-2 near midfield, and then he rumbled into Pittsburgh territory on an 18-yard run. Following a 16-yard pass to Johnson, the Lions were in the red zone, but the drive stalled following a pass that went off Brandon Pettigrew's hands on third down. It was more of a bad throw by Stafford than a drop by Pettigrew, continuing the theme of Stafford just barely missing his receivers. (He had Kevin Ogletree open downfield on the previous drive but overthrew him.) Following this, the Lions settled for a 35-yard David Akers field goal that bounced in off the upright, cutting the lead down to 14-3.
The Lions defense came up with a big stop by forcing a three-and-out. Even better, Micheal Spurlock set the Lions up with great field position by returning the ensuing punt 13 yards to the Pittsburgh 45. Unfortunately, any hope of cutting the lead down again was dashed by Bush. On the very first play of the drive, Bush had the ball knocked loose. The fumble was recovered by the Steelers and returned to the Detroit 32, putting the Lions defense in a tough spot. They responded to the challenge after allowing Pittsburgh to get down to the 7-yard line, holding the Steelers to a 25-yard field goal.
The Lions' next possession, much like their last, also lasted only one play. It wasn't because of another turnover, though. Instead, Stafford threw a pass downfield for an open Johnson, and he broke a tackle to go 79 yards for a touchdown. This was the point where the Lions really flipped the switch in this game offensively, and now they only trailed 17-10.
The Steelers put together a good drive of their own that included a 43-yard pass to Le'Veon Bell. This got them all the way down to the Detroit 12, but the Lions defense again didn't break. As a result, Pittsburgh padded its lead with another field goal, but it didn't take the Lions long to cut it down yet again. The Lions moved the chains on third-and-11 on their next drive with a 31-yard pass to Pettigrew, and Kris Durham picked up 25 yards on the very next play. On the snap after that, Stafford looked for Johnson and found him again, this time for 19 yards and a touchdown. The 5-play TD drive meant that the Lions were now down only 20-17.
After a Steelers three-and-out, the Lions again wasted little time in finding the end zone. Stafford hit Johnson for 23 yards, and Bell went for 37 yards on a beautiful screen pass on the very next play. After a failed fade to Johnson in the end zone, Bell got the ball on a run and went 2 yards for another Lions touchdown. Once again, it was a 5-play TD drive for the Lions, and this one gave them a 24-20 lead.
With 1:42 to go in the half, the Steelers tried to get something going but just had an absolute disaster of a drive. A holding penalty backed them up on first down, and they followed this up with a pass for a loss of a yard. The Steelers were then flagged for holding again (nearly in the end zone), and this ultimately led to fourth-and-20 at the 10-yard line. A 31-yard punt and solid return put the Lions in field goal range, but a holding penalty on the return backed them up to midfield.
With 1:02 to go in the half at the start of the drive, the Lions had a tough time getting things going. However, they moved down the field with a 20-yard pass on third-and-15, and Bell picked up 10 yards on a catch after Stafford spiked the ball. A 22-yard pass to Johnson put the Lions at the 4-yard line, and they moved down to the 1-yard line following a defensive pass interference penalty in the end zone. They had a few shots at scoring from just a yard out, but they were really lucky to just get a field goal out of this. Stafford was nearly picked off by Ike Taylor, but Taylor couldn't hang on. As a result, the Lions got a 19-yard Akers field goal to close out the first half, giving them a 27-20 lead.
The second half opened with four straight punts. The Steelers got the ball first and went three-and-out after a good challenge by Jim Schwartz got a catch ruling changed to an incompletion. After a 70-yard punt, the Lions went three-and-out, and Sam Martin boomed a punt 59 yards into the wind. The Steelers responded with a three-and-out after a roughing the passer penalty on C.J. Mosley, and then the Lions went three-and-out again after Stafford got sacked at the 2-yard line on third down.
The punt show ended after Pittsburgh took over at the Detroit 45. The Steelers moved it down the field through the air with ease out of the no huddle, and they got down to the 1-yard line after a conversion on third-and-4. Roethlisberger tried to keep the hurry-up offense going, but Andre Fluellen jumped offside. This was actually a good thing, as it allowed the Lions to sub in a new group of personnel. They did just that and stuffed Bell on first down. On second down, Roethlisberger missed an open receiver, and Bell was stuffed again on third down. Pittsburgh had to settle for a field goal as a result, meaning the Lions remained on top, 27-23.
After allowing the Steelers to cut down their lead, the Lions finally found some life on offense. Actually, it was more than just "some life." They put together a 12-play drive that covered 70 yards and ran 7:25 off the clock. They were moving the ball with ease through the air and on the ground, even after Bell left with an ankle injury. Eventually, they had third-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 10, and Stafford's pass to Johnson in the end zone was broken up. This set up a field goal attempt that would have given the Lions a 7-point lead, but they shockingly decided to fake it instead. Martin, the holder, took off to the right side, but he was hit short of the first down and fumbled the ball away to the Steelers. As a result, the Lions got no points out of this drive thanks to the extremely, extremely questionable decision to have their punter run the ball on a bad field in awful weather.
Much to the surprise of no one after the botched fake field goal, the Steelers went 97 yards down the field on a 16-play drive that took 8:03 off the clock. The Lions first couldn't get off the field by allowing a conversion on third-and-9 when Pittsburgh was at the 4-yard line, and they later couldn't get off the field on fourth-and-2. This ultimately led to the Steelers having the ball down at the 1-yard line again. It took them a few tries (with a pass interference penalty on the Lions mixed in), but the Steelers were able to get into the end zone on a pass to Will Johnson, giving them a 30-27 lead.
In need of points, the Lions offense came up empty. After two incompletions, Stafford tried to go deep to Johnson on third down and was picked off by Will Allen, who returned it all the way to the Detroit 34. After moving the chains once, the Steelers faced third-and-6 at the 20-yard line, and they basically put the game away with a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Jerricho Cotchery. This made it 37-27, and that ended up being the final score after the Lions turned the ball over on downs on the next possession.
Plain and simple, the Lions let this game get away. After dominating Pittsburgh in the second quarter, the Lions couldn't do much of anything on offense, defense or special teams in the second half. Yes, the fake field goal was an awful decision in hindsight, but that's far from the most concerning thing. The fact that the offense couldn't score any points in the second half and the defense couldn't stop anything through the air is way more troubling, and that's why the Lions lost this game.
Next week really is a must-win situation with the 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to town. The Green Bay Packers will come to Ford Field only four days later, and the Lions can't afford to let another game they should win turn out to be a loss.