Watching the second quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions was a lesson in how lethal the Detroit offense can be.
It was also 15 minutes of “Same old Steelers.” At least the Steelers team that has stumbled more than it’s succeeded this season.
Detroit scored 27 points to erase a 17-point lead and create panic in even the most stoic hearts of fans at Heinz Field.
Calvin Johnson had 179 yards on six catches with two second-quarter touchdowns. Matthew Stafford had 327 passing yards at intermission. Detroit was doing whatever it wanted with the ball.
The highlight play came when the Lions started their rampage as Stafford eluded Pittsburgh’s pass rush, rolled to his right and arced a ball to Johnson.
Johnson shook off Ike Taylor like a meddlesome bumblebee and made it to the end zone with little challenge from the Steelers defense.
Detroit’s effort during that run was actually spectacular to watch.
Then again, so was what the Steelers did to hold Johnson to zero catches in the second half while bottling up Stafford, who only passed for 45 yards in the final 30 minutes.
It’s the kind of effort that can make anyone wonder where this Steelers team has been for the first 10 weeks of the season.
Granted, the Lions did have a shot at points during the second half. A fake field goal try with the Lions up 27-23 was halted by the Steelers on a forced fumble by Steve McClendon that was pounced on by Ryan Clark. A run of 14 unanswered points followed. There was another turnover too. Stafford’s up-for-grabs throw to Johnson was grabbed by Will Allen while the Lions were trying to rally from a 30-27 deficit.
For as horrid as the Steelers defense was in the second quarter, it was just as exceptional in the second half.
Welcome to the most frustrating part of following the Steelers, seeing things fall apart only to have the team exceed its potential sometime afterward.
How did shutting down Johnson - and in essence the Lions - happen?
“It might have been what they didn’t do,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “That guy is an awesome football player.”
Johnson was only targeted three times by Stafford during the second half. Certainly it was something that the Steelers cooked up to contain him.
“They were doubling (Johnson) most of the game,” Stafford said. “They were doubling most guys, playing two-deep, man-under a lot of the game. They were top-10 in the NFL against the pass in the NFL coming into this game. They can rush the passer and guard receivers. We didn’t do enough to put enough points on the board.”
Now with the Steelers sitting at 4-6 with a stack of winnable games awaiting them, a stab at a postseason berth is not out of the question. Especially if Sunday was the continuation of an upward trend started with last week’s win over Buffalo.
“We did what was required to win today and that’s significant,” Tomlin said. “But I’m not going to paint with a broad brush and look for anything that’s maybe not there. I appreciate the efforts today. It was required under the circumstances. We did the job.”
How often they get the job done between now and Week 17 will hinge on putting together performances like Sunday’s second half.
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.