BY WILL GRAVES
Backed up and fed up, Ben Roethlisberger provided a vivid reminder to his critics and the Detroit Lions of just how dangerous he and his suddenly surging team remain.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns, including two in the final 5 minutes as the Steelers rallied to beat the Lions 37-27.
The victory capped a contentious week in which Roethlisberger refuted speculation he may seek a trade in the offseason and rumors the franchise would like him to take a more “cerebral” approach to the game.
He responded by calling most of the plays against an aggressive but immature defense as Pittsburgh put together its most productive offensive day in more than two years.
“It feels awesome to win it the way we did,” Roethlisberger said mounting the 31st comeback victory of his 10-year career.
Roethlisberger led the Steelers 97 yards for the go-ahead touchdown after the Lions botched a fake field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter, hitting Will Johnson for a 1-yard touchdown to put Pittsburgh up 30-27 with 4:46 remaining.
Pittsburgh safety Will Allen picked off Matthew Stafford on Detroit’s next possession and returned it to the Lions 30.
Five plays later Roethlisberger lobbed a 20-yard strike to Jerricho Cotchery to extend the cushion to 10 points as the Steelers (4-6) won their second straight to keep the Lions (6-4) winless in Pittsburgh for 58 years and counting.
Antonio Brown caught seven passes for 147 yards and two scores and Pittsburgh’s defense rebounded from a horrific second quarter to hold high-powered Detroit in check during the second half.
Stafford threw for 362 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, surpassing Bobby Layne’s team record for career passing yards in the process. Calvin Johnson hauled in six passes for 179 yards and both scores, but Detroit’s two stars disappeared over the final 30 minutes.
The Steelers limited Stafford to just 3 of 16 passing after halftime, while Johnson was shut out.
“We knew they’d make plays and get yards,” Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. “We just wanted to make plays and stop them when it counted, and we were able to do that.”
Still, the Lions entered the fourth quarter with the lead thanks to a 27-point deluge in the second quarter. Detroit had a chance to push the advantage to a touchdown. But rather than have David Akers attempt a short field goal, the Lions opted to run a fake.
Holder Sam Martin, however, fumbled while fighting for the necessary 5 yards and the Steelers recovered.
“I got hit by a 350-pound man,” Martin said. “I don’t think I had the first down, but regardless, that guy made a great play.”
The Lions appeared to take control of the NFC North with a win on the road at Chicago last week but let the momentum vanish during a meek second half in which they appeared rattled by soggy conditions at Heinz Field and their own mind-boggling success during the highest-scoring second quarter in franchise history.
“We just didn’t execute,” Stafford said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
Detroit’s collapse was hard to imagine following a dazzling 15 minutes in which Johnson and Stafford did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said last week he couldn’t wait for the chance to go “mano-a-mano” with the NFL’s best receiver. Like nearly every player who has lined up across the line of scrimmage from Johnson over last three years, the matchup looked like a mismatch.
At least, for a while.
Detroit spotted the Steelers an early 14-0 lead and just 6:37 to set a franchise record for points in a quarter. Johnson, as he tends to be, was right in the middle of it. He started the onslaught with an impossibly easy 79-yard touchdown, taking a heave from Stafford at the Pittsburgh 40 and then practically jogging into the end zone to make it 14-10.
Johnson was at it again the next time the Lions had the ball, beating the coverage to the inside for a 19-yard score to tie the game at 17.
Taylor became so frustrated that at one point he was flagged for holding and pass interference on Johnson on consecutive plays late in the first half, though the penalties served their purpose.
Rather than get a last-second touchdown to go up by 10 at the break, the Lions were forced to kick a field goal and settle for a 27-20 lead.
Just as abruptly as the eruption began, it stopped. Detroit did little in the second half while the Steelers stoked – for another week at least – whatever flickering hopes they have of getting back to .500 and perhaps beyond.
“We’ve got to keep this thing going,” Cotchery said. “Our margin for error is nonexistent right now. We feel good about this team and we’re going to keep grinding.”
Notes: Stafford now has 16,005 career passing yards to blow past Layne’s club record of 15,710. Stafford’s first touchdown pass to Johnson was the 100th of his career. He reached the plateau in his 55th career game, the fourth-fastest in NFL history. ... Johnson has gone over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, tying Herman Moore’s club record. ... Cotchery has a career-high seven touchdowns.