Leftwich ineffective but Steelers beat Lions 23-7
PITTSBURGH (AP)—On a night when heavy rain pelted the Lions and Steelers for nearly a quarter and bolts of lightning led to a 73-minute delay that sent fans scurrying, Ben Roethlisberger(notes) found the best place to stay warm and dry.
Roethlisberger never got off the bench in a return to Heinz Field that couldn’t have been much quieter, and replacement Byron Leftwich(notes) was ineffective despite playing much longer than expected. No matter, Pittsburgh beat Detroit 23-7 on Saturday night behind No. 3 quarterback Dennis Dixon(notes), who threw for a touchdown and hit a long pass to set up another score.
Leftwich was outplayed by Matthew Stafford(notes) in the Lions quarterback’s first game action since injuring a shoulder against Cincinnati on Dec. 6. After Stafford left following a 2-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson(notes), the Steelers came back from a 7-6 deficit as Dixon led scoring drives of 75, 79 and 68 yards with reserves playing.
“I’m having a blast,” Dixon said, a sentiment not shared by many others on a long, wet evening.
Roethlisberger’s behavior during a March night of drinking in Georgia that led to accusations of sexual assault but no charges visibly stirred anger among Steelers fans. But, five months later, his first appearance in a Steelers uniform since then was greeted with shrugs.
The only crowd reaction came when a few fans chanted, “We want Ben, we want Ben” as Leftwich struggled.
Roethlisberger never bothered to put on a helmet or warm up, wearing a ballcap turned backward during pregame warmups. He also didn’t talk to reporters.
“With the number of snaps we anticipated the first offense running, it just wasn’t appropriate to play him,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He wanted to play. He’s had an awesome training camp.”
Leftwich was expected to play eight to 12 snaps, but instead played nearly twice that as Tomlin apparently was displeased with the offense’s first two series. Two running backs fumbled, Leftwich was sacked for 8 yards and he unintentionally spiked a pass as the starters gained only 16 yards in 12 plays.
“We weren’t really clicking,” Leftwich said. “We did some things not so good, but we’ll work on it.”
Stafford was 8 of 11 for 61 yards and a touchdown to Leftwich’s 6 of 10 for 43 yards, although the 68-yard drive that ended with Stafford’s scoring pass came against mostly backup defenders.
“I felt good, I felt like I was in the flow of the game,” Stafford said. “I felt real comfortable in there.”
Leftwich played until midway into the second quarter before leading a 61-yard drive against Lions reserves that ended with the second of Jeff Reed’s(notes) three field goals. Reed converted from 35, 37 and 32 yards.
Dixon’s 51-yard completion to Arnaz Battle(notes) with Eric King(notes) in coverage led to Isaac Redman’s(notes) 1-yard touchdown run during the rain-soaked second quarter. Redman, a free agent from Bowie State who first made a splash during last year’s training camp, carried 15 times for 60 yards and appears to be the frontrunner to back up starter Rashard Mendenhall(notes).
When the rain finally let up, the teams played the final 1 minute, 37 seconds of the first half and then immediately began the second half with many in the crowd of 55,248 already long gone.
The Lions, a combined 2-30 the last two seasons, did little with Shaun Hill(notes) and Drew Stanton(notes) at quarterback. They drove to the Steelers’ 7 early in the second half, but DeDe Dorsey(notes) fumbled and the Steelers ate up more than nine minutes of the quarter with a field goal drive.
“I thought we did some good things early in the game,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “But you can’t finish the game the way we did—the second and third quarters especially—and be happy about it.”
First-round draft pick Jahvid Best(notes) had a 15-yard run among six carries for 29 yards in a brief but effective Lions debut. Defensive end Ndamukong Suh(notes), the No. 2 pick in the April draft who signed for a guaranteed $40 million, played briefly but made no tackles.