(DETROIT) - Joey Harrington connected with receiver Charles Rogers on three of the game's first seven plays including two key third down conversions to lead the Lions to a 27-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Harrington and Rogers accounted for 56 yards on Detroit's first possession leading to a one-yard touchdown pass to Casey FitzSimmons, giving the Lions a lead they never relinquished.
Detroit got the ball on their own 20 following a turnover by Pittsburgh Duce Staley. The Steelers had taken the opening possession 78 yards before Staley's fumble that was nearly recovered by guard Alan Faneca in the endzone, but referees ruled his feet were out of bounds and awarded Detroit a touchback.
Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher admitted he erred in not challenging the call. "That was my first game of the season out there too. I should have flagged that one. I got to work off the rust myself. They never showed the replay but it was too close to not to have at least challenged it. That one is on me."
"We were 5-of-7 throwing the ball," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci. "Joey was very efficient. The touchdown was not exactly like you draw it up. He had to improvise, which I like. That's an area where Joey has improved tremendously. We're making something happen out of the pocket."
Rogers was happy with his performance. "I think we moved the ball real well [on] our first drive. Just to go there and take the ball 80-yards with Joey and our offense. I think we did pretty well. It was a good grade for the day."
Pittsburgh tied the score when rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit Antwaan Randle-El in the end zone from 7 yards out,
but Detroit's Jason Hanson boomed a 45-yard field goal to give Detroit the lead at the half.
The play was set up by a fake punt. Pittsburgh directly snapped the football to rookie safety Troy Polamalu who rambled 65 yards, setting up the Steelers deep in Lions territory. Polamalu fumbled, but the Steelers recovered, setting up Roethlisberger's heroics.
Detroit added to their lead with an unexpected performance by nearly forgotten running back Olandis Gary. Gary scored from one yard out on Detroit's first possesion of the second half to increase the lead to 17-7. Gary's 12-carry, 27-yard, 1 TD performance was tops among Detroit's running backs.
Mike McMahon was intercepted by former Lion Terry Fair on Detroit's next possession at Detroit's 27-yard line giving the Steelers new life. Third string quarterback Brian St. Pierre connected with Freddie Milons on a 7-yard TD pass to get the Steelers within three points.
McMahon drove Detroit to the Pittsburgh 32 before the drive stalled and Chris Snyder hit on a 50-yard field goal to up Detroit's lead to 20-14.
Pittsburgh fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Detroit's Mike Brandt recovered on the Steelers 21-yard line. It took 12 plays, but McMahon converted 3rd-and-10, hitting David Kircus for 17 yards before Avon Cobourne scored on a 7-yard run to give Detroit a 27-14 lead.
Ricardo Colclough returned the kickoff to the Detroit 36 to set up Pittsburgh in great shape. Rookie Dante Brown burst into the Detroit end zone untouched from 26-yards out to cut the lead to 27-21.
St. Pierre led a furious attempt to comeback, driving the Steelers from their own 31-yard line to Detroit 17-yard line before rookie corner Jeff Sanchez broke up Pittsburgh's last gasp attempt with two seconds left to preserve the win.
Mike McMahon led the Lions statiscally in passing, going 9-of-21 for 119 yards.
"I kind of knew I was going to get the second and third quarter. Joey did an excellent job with the first drive. It was a nice long drive. I thought they would probably give him two drives but after that first one there's no need to. He did a great job with the first offense. That's why you play the game. You practice hard to get in there and play in the game. I was ready to stay in longer but I understood they were going to get Rick (Mirer) in there in the fourth quarter."
Mariucci said he was pleased with Detroit's performance.
"We got a lot of things done, rehearsed and practiced tonight in a close game, a lot of things presented themselves. From that standpoint I am pleased. Obviously there are going to be 1,000 things that we need to clean up tomorrow. I can't wait to watch the film. I know we need to be better with our communication and substitution."
Harrington, Rogers sparkle in 27-21 win
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