Steelers gathering momentum

The Steelers, who began 1-2 and were two games behind Baltimore in the AFC North Division, have made a comeback of sorts ...

... by winning two straight, including their first of the season on the road Sunday in Detroit.

Pittsburgh is now tied with Baltimore at 3-2 and trail first-place Cincinnati by a game in the division. They play the next two games in Heinz Field before their bye and expect both Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu and running back Willie Parker to return to play against Cleveland Sunday.

Polamalu has been out with a sprained MCL in his left knee since it was injured in the opener and Parker missed the past two games with turf toe.

The decisions in all five of their games have come down to late in the fourth quarter or overtime, and Sunday was no different in Detroit when the Steelers had to stop the Lions on a drive that carried to their 21 with two minutes left. From there, however, the Steelers sacked Daunte Culpepper three straight times to seal their eight-point victory.

"It's definitely been the type of year where we have to play a full 60 minutes," said defensive captain James Farrior. "We don't fold under pressure. We know it's going to be thick out there. Sometimes we came up short but we have a lot of fight in us."

Pittsburgh's defense has not been nearly as dominant as it was when it led the NFL last season. The Steelers have yielded 55 points in the fourth quarter, compared to just 43 in the first three quarters combined.

"We're still searching for the Steelers," Farrior claimed.

NOTES, QUOTES

--It looked like Super Bowl XL again as thousands of Steelers fans helped sell out Ford Field, which drew only 40,000 for the previous Lions home game.

"I appreciated the support of Steeler Nation and they traveled awesome today," coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "It's spectacular to stand on the visiting sideline and see the fan support we had in this building today."

--Pittsburgh's streak of not allowing a first-quarter score ended in Detroit when Jason Hanson kicked two field goals of 46 yards. The last time the Steelers yielded fist-quarter points came in their first playoff game last season, to San Diego. They had gone six games, including the AFC championship and Super Bowl, without giving up a first-quarter score.

--Detroit linebacker Larry Foote congratulated his former teammates in the Steelers locker room after the game. Foote hosted about 10 of his former mates at his home Saturday night in Detroit.

"He's always a Steeler," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "He's welcome whenever."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL PLAYER NOTES

--FS Troy Polamalu, who has not played since his MCL was sprained in the opener, practiced some last week, stretched before the game and is expected to suit up this Sunday.

--RB Willie Parker missed his second straight game with turf toe and may have lost his starting job to Rashard Mendenhall in the process. Parker should play this Sunday.

--WR Hines Ward again led the Steelers with seven receptions for 85 yards and his first TD of the season. Ward is off to one of his fastest starts at age 33 with 33 catches for 440 yards.

--S Ryan Clark's interception in the third quarter was the first for the Steelers since the first game and only their second this season.

--WR Limas Sweed was active in Detroit after he was benched the previous game for dropping a TD pass. He dropped the only pass thrown his way Sunday.

REPORT CARD VS. LIONS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Ben Roethlisberger got good protection and had his best day of the season, completing 23 of 30 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and a 123.9 passer rating. But he also threw an interception that was returned 38 yards for a touchdown that put the Lions back in the game, down by a point. Roethlisberger was sacked three times, two of them coverage sacks.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Rashard Mendenhall turned in his second straight good performance replacing injured Willie Parker as the starter. He ran 15 times for 77 yards and a 7-yard touchdown. However, the Steelers did not run much. Roethlisberger had three kneel-downs and Mewelde Moore ran twice; they gained just 82 yards on the ground as a team.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Steelers allowed Daunte Culpepper to sit back and throw and scramble and make third-down conversions, many of them long, at the rate of 11-of-18. It was not until the final drive as the Lions closed in on possibly tying the game that they cut loose with the blitz and they sacked him four times, three in a row, of their seven for the day. Culpepper completed 23 of 37 for 282, one TD and one interception for an 83.4 rating.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Detroit's 110 yards and 4.4-yard average per carry were deceiving because Culpepper picked up 44 of those on three scrambles. Otherwise, the Lions ground game produced just 66 yards on 21 tries and no touchdowns. Kevin Smith led Detroit with 53 yards on 20 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Little stuck out other than Stephan Logan's 47-yard kickoff return that started a 52-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Jeff Reed tried no field goals and punter Daniel Sepulveda averaged 48.5, 43.3 net with one of his four punts inside the 20. The Lions had no returns of note.

COACHING: C-minus -- Even though they led 28-13 in the fourth quarter, the Steelers came out passing with 10 minutes left and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice. Coordinator Bruce Arians acknowledged that he "got greedy there." Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau played a conservative game against the Lions and Detroit used it to their advantage right up until the end when LeBeau dialed it up and Culpepper was sacked four times on the Lions' final drive that fizzled.


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