- The Lions defense came out with a big stop right out of the gate. Eric King made a huge play on 3rd and 5 to force the Steelers to punt, knocking the ball out of Limas Sweed's hands and preventing what would have been a first down.
- The Lions did not get off to a very good start offensively, as Daunte Culpepper was sacked by James Harrison for the first of 7 times on Sunday (he was sacked 7 times overall). The ball came loose on the play, but Culpepper recovered it. After Kevin Smith ran for 3 yards on second down, the Lions faced 3rd and 11 and Culpepper made a big play of his own. He didn't find anyone open, but what he did see was a huge running lane. As a result, Culpepper took off and showed excellent speed, running for 32 yards to move the chains. Another fumble (not because of a sack) happened on the next play, and Smith only picked up a yard on second down, making it 3rd and long again. Culpepper didn't need to use his legs to pick up a first down this time, as he found Maurice Morris on a screen for a gain of 16. The Lions were unable to move the chains on their next third down, but Jason Hanson nailed a 46-yard field goal to put the Lions on top 3-0.
If you were watching the game on CBS, this is the moment Dan Fouts kept referring to all day long. He exemplified the phrase "beating a dead horse," as he couldn't get over the fact that the Lions didn't accept an offside penalty that occurred on the field goal. The offside would not have moved the chains, but Fouts kept lamenting that Jim Schwartz should have took the penalty to get a measurement. What he didn't seem to understand was that accepting the penalty would have taken points off the board and only made it 4th and inches in all likelihood. If the Lions had no intention of going for it regardless of the distance, then it would have made no sense to take the penalty. The way I see it, the Lions were the first team all season long to score on the Steelers in the first quarter, and Schwartz wasn't about to undo that.
- The Steelers rebounded after opening with a three and out by quickly going down the field and scoring. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Santonio Holmes and Rashard Mendenhall for 14 and 9 yards, and then Mendenhall went for 27 on a run. Hines Ward made a catch for a gain of 21 a couple plays later, setting up a 7-yard Mendenhall touchdown on the next play.
- The Lions' next drive looked like it was going to produce a touchdown, but Culpepper threw the ball away and was called for intentional grounding after Detroit got down to the 7. The penalty backed the Lions up 16 yards and basically killed the drive since it was goal to go. Hanson nailed another 46-yard field goal, though, and the Lions got within a point of Pittsburgh.
The worst part about this drive was what happened on the second play. Calvin Johnson caught a quick screen and took a shot to his leg, injuring him and ending his day after basically one drive. The loss of Calvin didn't seem to hurt the Lions too much on this drive, as Culpepper had a 17-yard pass to Bryant Johnson and a 27-yard pass to a wide open Jerome Felton, but losing Megatron definitely hurt over the course of the rest of the game.
- The Steelers were the beneficiary of some big time luck at the beginning of this quarter. Ben Roethlisberger fumbled on the second play of the quarter and it looked like one of the many Lions near the ball would fall on it. Somehow it ended up in Rashard Mendenhall's hands, though, giving the ball back to Pittsburgh. Two plays later on 3rd and 4, Roethlisberger was picked off by Eric King at the Detroit 41, but a dreaded late flag was thrown. Why? Well, Landon Cohen got blocked into Roethlisberger's legs, and to his credit, he did a great job of acting hurt. The acting job drew a flag for roughing the passer, negating the interception and moving the chains for the Steelers. The not-exactly-injured Roethlisberger bounced back and threw a touchdown pass to Heath Miller from 15 yards out later in the drive, which came exactly one play after a Mendenhall TD run was nullified because of holding.
- The Lions went three and out on their next drive, but that quickly became an afterthought.
- The defense dodged a bullet when a wide open Mike Wallace dropped a deep pass that probably would have been a touchdown. The Lions made the Steelers pay for the miscue, as Roethlisberger was picked off by William James two players later. James read the play perfectly and jumped the route, picking the ball off and running it back for a touchdown. The 38-yard interception return made this a 1-point game and gave all the momentum to Detroit.
- Just as you might expect a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger to do, he shook off the mistake and came firing. It helped that Stefan Logan returned the kickoff 47 yards, giving Pittsburgh great field position. Roethlisberger capitalized on it and found Heath Miller for 3 catches in a span of 4 plays. That put Roethlisberger in position to find Hines Ward for a 17-yard touchdown on the very next play, once again giving the Steelers an 8-point lead.
- A 23-yard pass to Kevin Smith and a 10-yard pass to Dennis Northcutt moved the Lions into Steelers territory, but two incompletions and a sack later brought up another punting situation.
- Pittsburgh originally tried to move the ball despite having only a minute left and being on their own 10-yard line, but after the clock ran down too much following back-to-back completions that moved the Steelers out to the 39, Mike Tomlin decided to have Roethlisberger take a knee and go into halftime with a 21-13 lead.
- Unlike what we had seen in previous weeks, the Lions came out after halftime with a great start. The Lions moved the chains on three straight third downs, and the drive was going quite well until Manny Ramirez was called for holding. That put the Lions in a hole, though they did get most of the penalty back on a 9-yard pass to Bryant Johnson on third down. It was nowhere near close enough for the first down, though, so Jason Hanson came into the game to attempt a 49-yard field goal. I figured it would be automatic, but for the first time in a long time Hanson missed a kick. The ball sailed just wide of the upright, and the Lions blew a big chance at cutting the lead down.
- The Steelers immediately went for a big play and boy was that a good call. Ben Roethlisberger heaved the ball downfield, letting the speedy Mike Wallace run under it. Wallace completely blew by William James, who managed to recover and get in position to make a play on the pass. He had no idea where the ball was, though, allowing it to sail right into the arms of Wallace for a 47-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Lions went from having a shot at cutting down the lead to now trailing 28-13.
- The Lions left more points on the field on the next drive. A solid combination of runs and passes got the Lions down to the Pittsburgh 28, where they had first down. Culpepper fumbled the snap but quickly picked it up. It looked like he had time to make a play or at least get rid of the ball, which is what he did. Unfortunately, rather than throw the ball away out of bounds, he threw it across the field. It went right to Ryan Clark, who made the interception with ease. Culpepper must have had a brain fart on this play, as it did not look like something a veteran would do, especially considering where the Lions were on the field.
- The mistake gave the Steelers the ball, and although they didn't turn it into points, the Lions could have at least had a shot at a field goal had the turnover not happened. I doubt Jason Hanson would have missed twice in a row, so at the very least the Lions left 3 points on the field.
- After the Lions went three and out (thanks in part to another holding call), the defense really stepped it up. Gunther Cunningham dialed up the pressure and Roethlisberger didn't know what hit him. Andre Fluellen and Cliff Avril made a sack on first down, and Julian Peterson dragged down Roethlisberger for a sack on third down.
- Daunte Culpepper did show that he was a veteran by forgetting about the mistake he made earlier in the game and coming out firing on this next drive. A 27-yard pass interference penalty helped move things along, but Culpepper made some big plays after yet another holding call, this time on Maurice Morris. Culpepper completed five straight passes that went for 9, 5, 7, 13, and 25 yards. The last one was to Dennis Northcutt in the end zone, and it made this a one-possession game with just under five minutes to go.
- The Lions defense recovered nicely after giving up an 8-yard run on first down and forced the Steelers to punt, giving the offense around three minutes to go down the field and score.
- It looked like a touchdown was bound to happen after Culpepper hit Derrick Williams for 18 yards on a stellar catch at the start of the drive. The two hooked up again on the following play for 19 more yards, moving the Lions into Steelers territory. Even after Culpepper was sacked for a loss of 9 and later faced 3rd and 19, he made a play by finding Dennis Northcutt for a gain of 22. Suddenly the Lions were on the Pittsburgh 21 just as the two-minute warning hit, giving them plenty of time to march into the end zone. That is when all good things came to an end, though. Culpepper was sacked on the next three plays for a loss of 24 yards combined. That made it 4th and 34 from the 45, and on the Lions' final play of the game, Culpepper simply heaved the ball downfield, hoping for a miracle. It was knocked down, and the Steelers were able to leave Ford Field with a 28-20 victory.
It was a rough weekend for me personally, as I felt like Saturday night happened all over again on Sunday afternoon. Just as Michigan gave away the game on Saturday to Iowa, the Lions really gave away the game on Sunday to the Steelers. I say that because the Lions drove into Steelers territory quite a bit and either ended up with a field goal or no points at all not counting the second-to-last drive when they scored a touchdown. What's more, the Lions could have ended one Steelers scoring drive twice but failed to recover a fumble and had an interception negated because of a penalty. All in all this was a very winnable game. Although that is encouraging considering the opponent, it is even more disappointing than a typical blowout loss, as you look back and know that the Lions could have won.
I'm not going to trash Daunte Culpepper too much, as the Lions were in position to send this game to overtime with him as the quarterback. Of course, he made a few crucial mistakes over the course of the game that possibly prevented the Lions from winning, but he wasn't completely awful like many expected him to be. Yes, that interception was one of the worst plays I have ever seen, but he was moving the ball down the field effectively on those last couple of drives until the entire offense had a complete meltdown. Matthew Stafford is obviously this team's quarterback and I welcome his return, but it's nice to know that Culpepper is a decent backup. I hope to never see him again in a Lions game since that would mean that Stafford is healthy, but if the current injury keeps the rookie out longer than expected or another one happens in the future, at least the Lions can stay competitive with Culpepper behind the wheel.