Steelers lean on D, Smith-Schuster in 20-15 win over Lions
By LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — JuJu Smith-Schuster made an inside move like a veteran and used his young legs to do the rest.
The rookie receiver scored on a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger late in the third quarter, and the Pittsburgh Steelers forced the Detroit Lions to turn the ball over on downs twice in a 20-15 win Sunday night.
Smith-Schuster, selected No. 62 overall out of Southern California, had season highs with seven receptions for 193 yards.
“A lot of people said, ‘He’s young, he’s immature,'” Smith-Schuster said. “I’m 20 years old, but when I’m on the field, playing with my boys, I’m going to get the job done.”
Smith-Schuster also knows how to have a little fun. When he got to the sideline after his touchdown, he put a chain that he purchased Sunday on a stationary bike, making light of his bike being stolen and recovered recently.
“He’s a little kid, excited for the moment,” veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “You appreciate the energy he brings. Us old farts don’t know how to deal with it sometimes, but I’m glad we got him.”
Roethlisberger is, too, because he has a reliable receiver to go to when Antonio Brown is covered and Martavis Bryant is pouting.
His last catch converted a third-and-1 from the Steelers 32, allowing them to run out the clock.
“He’s not playing like a rookie,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s playing like a seasoned veteran.”
The AFC North-leading Steelers (6-2) go into their bye week with a three-game winning streak.
“We weren’t perfect, obviously, but boy we showed fight,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Pittsburgh’s defense put up a curtain in front of it end zone, forcing the Lions to settle for field goals. When they went for touchdowns, the Steelers stopped them.
Detroit coach Jim Caldwell chose to go for it on fourth down from the Steelers 1 trailing by one in the third quarter. Matthew Stafford was sacked as he stepped up out of a collapsing pocket and tried to run up the middle.
“Just as I thought I could do something, I got hit,” Stafford said.
A snap after missing wide-open tight end Jesse James on the ensuing drive, Roethlisberger dropped back into his end zone and perfectly lofted a pass to Smith-Schuster. The rookie receiver ran for about 70 yards after the catch, running past cornerback Quandre Diggs and pulling away from safety Glover Quin on his way to the end zone.
“I told him I didn’t know he had that much speed,” Roethlisberger recalled. “He said he didn’t, either.”
Matt Prater kicked his fifth field goal on the next possession after Caldwell didn’t want to go for it on another fourth down from the Pittsburgh 1, drawing boos from a crowd that included a lot of black-and-yellow clad, towel-twirling fans cheering for the visitors.
“We tried to be aggressive the first time,” Caldwell said. “And then it was later in the game, so we kicked it. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Then, receiver Golden Tate gave it away.
Detroit got the ball back with a chance to drive for a go-ahead TD, but Tate blew it with an unforced fumble at the Steelers 24.
“It just slipped,” Tate said. “It was just a bad play by me.”
The Lions’ defense forced Pittsburgh to punt again and they failed to take advantage. After the 2-minute warning, Stafford threw an incomplete pass from the Pittsburgh 8.
“Our red zone defense was amazing,” Heyward said.
Detroit had the third-highest yardage total without a TD, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com data dating back to 1940. The Lions had 482 yards, trailing only Cincinnati’s 496 yards against Seattle in 1994 and San Francisco’s 501 against Washington in 1986.
The Lions (3-4) were coming off their bye and lost for the fourth time in five games.
TAKE A SEAT
Bryant was inactive after his social media outburst following a victory over Cincinnati last weekend. Tomlin was asked if he was confident whether Bryant will help the team later this season.
“I’m not,” Tomlin said.
THROUGH THE AIR
Brown, blanketed for much of the night by cornerback Darius Slay, had five catches for 70 yards.
TJ Jones, drafted by Detroit in 2014, had career highs with four receptions and 88 yards. Marvin Jones had six receptions for 128 yards for the Lions, who moved the ball well until they got deep into Pittsburgh territory.
Steelers: S Mike Mitchell hurt his right ankle, and was replaced by Robert Golden. … OL Chris Hubbard was evaluated for a concussion.
Lions: RB Dwayne Washington left the game with a concussion. … OT Rick Wagner went out with an ankle injury, and was able to return.
Steelers: Idle until playing Nov. 12 at Indianapolis.
Lions: Play at Green Bay on Monday, Nov. 6.
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