(DETROIT, MI) -- What a shame.
With a nearly packed house in their brand new digs downtown, the Detroit Lions couldn't give the fans what they wanted, a pre-season win. Instead of showing off their glistening new home by displaying a new winning attitude, the Lions relapsed into their old ways. Playing mistake proned football, the Lions fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 34-22.
And with Detroit attempting a fourth quarter comeback behind their rookie quarterback Joey Harrington, it was old friend Charlie Batch who slammed the door in their faces, running in from a yard out to give the Steelers an insurmountable lead.
"Well, that stadium is sure a nice stadium, but our football team needs a little work," said Lions' head coach Marty Mornhinweg. "We were in a pretty good fist fight there, in the first half. Offensively, we left some points out on the field, a bunch of 'em it appeared. Defensively we've got our defense off the field on third down. Even though our offense moved the ball, that's not enough points."
Early on, Detroit landed some quick blows. Mike McMahon, who started and played the entire first half, marched Detroit 74 yards on 8 plays thanks to a 34 yard burst off left tackle Jeff Backus by James Stewart. Near the goal line, Stewart took the one-yard reception, scoring the first ever touchdown in Ford Field and the near-sellout crowd roared in approval at the 7-0 lead.
But then, although it appeared subtle at the time, the wheels began coming off the wagon for Detroit.
"We made some major, major mistakes down their in the red zone," commented Mornhinweg. "We took a sack one time. We threw an interception and we fumbled either in or near the red zone right on top of scoring range. We can't do that. We've got to play smarter. We've got to play a bit more poised."
McMahon missed a wide open Az Hakim running free in the middle of the Steelers secondary, throwing behind him. Missed opportunity. Detroit settled for a Jason Hanson 37-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Detroit's defense was on its run game. Luther Elliss and Shaun Rogers and Robert Porcher absolutely stuffed the run early on. Pittsburgh ended the first quarter with just six yards rushing, despite the presence of Jerome Bettis.
But after getting stuffed in the run, Pittsburgh would seemingly play pitch and catch pick up a first down and move the chains. Steelers starter Tommy Maddox converted two third and longs on the possession, once to Antwaan Randle-El and once to Troy Edwards on their way to a one-yard Bettis plunge to cut the lead to 10-7.
"That's something we really need to take care of as a defense, " said defensive tackle Luther Elliss. "We need to really evaluate that. That's been a little problem for us the last couple of weeks is that third down, getting off the field and not giving up big plays. We've got to really evaluate it and see if its mental errors or something as far as talent. Maybe the guy just beat us."
Maddox put the Steelers on top after a missed Jason Hanson field goal attempt. Maddox hit Randle-El, who made a nifty spin move, leaving Eric Davis and Bracey Walker in the dust for a 29-yard touchdown and suddenly Ford Field began to field like the same Silverdome crowds with the air let out of them.
"We played a lot of man coverage against these guys and they have some extremely fast and quick receivers," said Mornhinweg. "And we got exposed just a little bit, but we continued to play that man coverage because we've got to get some evaluations done. And they beat us up just a little bit on some quick routes where they're separating very quick and our pass rush just couldn't get there."
On the Lions next possession, McMahon threw it right into the hands of linebacker Larry Foote and Pittsburgh set up shop deep in Lions territory. "Mike threw a horrible interception," said Mornhinweg. Maddox then hit tight end Mark Bruner right in front of safety Brian Walker and the Steelers had opened up a 21-10 lead.
Detroit got two Jason Hanson field goals just before half to cut the Steelers lead to 21-16.
Charlie Batch, the former Lions starter, entered the game in the third quarter and was hit with a chorus of boos by the fans. What Batch did to deserve that kind of welcome is questionable. Batch said he had no thought of trying to come back and trying to get revenge against the team for its release of him. "Honestly, it had nothing to do with me trying to come back and get revenge or anything like that. It was just the third preseason game was here. I promise you that. I didn't even think about that. We didn't start game planning for Detroit until Wednesday."
Regardless of his motive, he did get his revenge. Batch hit Amos Zeroue on a little screen against the Lions pass rush. Zeroue split the middle of the Lions defense and sprinted 39-yards for a touchdown and Pittsburgh now had a 27-16 lead after missing the conversion.
Joey Harrington also entered the game in the third quarter and seem to immediately light a spark under the team.
Harrington threatened to put Detroit ahead immediately, connecting with Scotty Anderson on a 67-yard bomb to the Steelers 8-yard line, but on the ensuing play Harrington was picked off at the goal line by Steelers Mike Logan ending the threat.
Later in the third quarter, Harrington finally connected with Anderson in the endzone from 33-yards out. Detroit also missed the conversion and the difference was 27-22.
Detroit self-destructed when, after a three-and-out by the Steelers and a bad punt set Detroit up in Steeler territory, James Mungro was blasted on a little counter play by Steelers reserve safety Chris Hope. Mungro fumbled the ball and the Steelers recovered.
"James put the ball on the ground and we don't do that. We can't put the ball on the ground."
The Steelers, who were also winless coming into the game, turned up the heat on Harrington in the fourth quarter, mixing coverages, stunting and blitzing in an attempt to put the game away. It worked, after another Jason Hanson missed field goal on a bad snap. The Steelers were able to stop Detroit from mounting any sort of threat. Then Batch added his one-yard plunge to salt away the win.
"I thought years ago that I would be here to open up the new stadium. I was here for the groundbreaking. I thought I was going to be here. Things happen for a reason and I'm still here. I'm still part of this. I'm still here opening up the new stadium. And however it's said," Batch chuckled, "I'm part of the Lions loss."
The Lions now have just one pre-season game left to iron out all the kinks in a sputtering offense and a pass defense that allows way too many third down conversions. We'll see the results Thursday and get a good gauge on where Detroit is when they play a team seemingly on their level, the Buffalo Bills (3-13 last season) at Ford Field Thursday night.