TD-deficient Lions fall to Steelers, 20-15

October 30, 2017

Detroit — The Lions offense had no problem moving the ball, navigating into the red zone five times, but couldn’t manage to get into the end zone once, falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-15, Sunday night.

The closer the Lions got to the goal line, the more inept the offense become. On back-to-back drives in the second half they stalled at the 1-yard line. The first, they turned it over on downs when quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked trying to scramble through traffic. The second, they settled for a 19-yard Matt Prater field goal.

Prater was superb, making all five of his kicks on the night, but you’re not going to win many games not scoring a touchdown.

BOX SCORE: Steelers 20, Lions 15

The Steelers scored two and it was a 97-yard touchdown pass to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster late in the third quarter that proved to be game-winner.

The dagger came after the Lions’ coughed it up on downs. Facing a third-and-9 from their own 3-yard line, Smith-Schuster shook nickelback Quandre Diggs in the slot and took a quick throw from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and outran the rest of the Lions’ defense for the score.

It was the key play in the coming out party for Smith-Schuster, a second-round pick in the most recent draft. Starting in place of the benched Martavis Bryant, the rookie hauled in six passes for 189 yards and the touchdown. He had 231 receiving yards through the first seven games.

Smith-Schuster helped the Steelers take an early 3-0 lead, catching a 41-yard pass on the first play of the night. Roethlisberger faked a short pass with a pump fake, drawing in cornerback Nevin Lawson as Smith-Schuster slipped behind the defense.

The Steelers nearly had a touchdown on that opening drive, but Eli Rogers dropped a wide open pass in the end zone on third down, leading to Chris Boswell to settle for a 34-yard boot.

The Lions quickly tied it with a 43-yard field goal after an eight-play 55-yard drive.

Detroit took the lead in the second quarter on a 37-yard Prater effort. Back-to-back false start penalties against offensive tackle Brian Mihalik and center Travis Swanson derailed the drive in the red zone before Prater came in for the save.

The Steelers regained the lead on the ensuing possession when All-Pro receiver outmuscled safety Miles Killebrew for a  40-yard catch to the 5-yard line and running back Le’Veon Bell punched it in from there.

But Prater tacked on two more field goals before the half to send the Lions to the locker room with a 12-10 advantage.

The Lions opened the third quarter with the ball, but had a rare offensive sputter and Sam Martin shanked a punt, giving the Steelers the ball in Lions’ territory. They turned that into a field goal to take the 13-12 lead.

That led into the Steelers’ goal-line stand and Smith-Schuster’s long touchdown.

The Lions had two more chances to take the lead but settled on a 19-yard field goal when running back Dwayne Washington was stopped at the 1-yard line on third-and-goal.

And on Detroit’s final possession, the Lions again sputtered inside the 5, audibling into a draw to Theo Riddick on third down that was stopped for a loss and seeing Stafford’s fourth-down throw disrupted by pressure and nearly intercepted.

The Steelers got a final first down, on a pass to Smith-Schuster to run out the clock on the win.

Stafford threw for 423 yards in the loss.