Teams all season have been rushing hard from the edges on Lions’ field goal attempts. David Akers has had two blocked this year. When they bring extra heat from the outside, it leaves the middle of the line vulnerable.
The Lions tried to exploit that early in the fourth quarter Sunday. The results were disastrous — the fake failed and instead of taking the field goal and going up by seven, the Steelers went 97 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown — but the reasoning was sound.
“We have all kinds of different wrinkles we can decide to use at different times depending on the looks that we see,” Akers said. “They were bringing it hard off the edge and we thought we could slide up in between some of the guys there. Coach (Jim) Schwartz is very aggressive and it was one of those things — yeah, you can hit the three (field goal) there. Most people would have thought we would kick it.
“But this was game-planned and if it was there, let’s go ahead and run it. Seven points would have made a big difference there.”
It would have put the Lions up by 11, 34-23, and the hole was there. It just got closed down quickly by defensive tackle Steve McClendon, who stuffed holder Sam Martin and forced a fumble.
“I thought it was a good call,” said Martin, who had never attempted a fake field goal, even in college. “You can’t play with scared money. It was open and that D-tackle made a heck of a play.”
Schwartz defended his decision adamantly, saying, “You can say whatever you want about me, but don’t say I’m scared because we ain’t. This team is going to be aggressive. We didn’t play well enough to win this game, but it’s not because we were passive.”
The consensus in the locker room was in favor of the move.
“It comes down to a mentality,” Akers said. “Are you going to play it safe or be aggressive and go after it? At that point, they still have 97 yards to go and we’re still up by four. To me, you give them the ball there, there is a good chance you are going to hold them, force a punt and be right back in field goal position.”
Reggie Bush did not play much in the second half. Had Joique Bell not injured his foot, he might not have played at all.
He wasn’t injured. He was benched.
“Reggie didn’t have an easy time getting started today,” Schwartz said. “That had a lot to do with our inability to get points in the second half.”
Bush had 31 yards rushing in 12 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards. He fumbled in the second quarter, which led to a field goal.
When asked why he was on the bench, Bush said, “Probably because I fumbled the ball. You turn the ball over, that’s what happens. I’ve been in this league long enough to know that. There is nobody to blame but myself.”
Rookie Theo Riddick was on the field for the Lions’ last drive.
When asked about how the Steelers were able to shut down Calvin Johnson in the second half, Schwartz said, “They put a good player on him.”
Actually, that player, Ike Taylor, was on him in the first half, too, when Johnson got loose for 179 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, though, he shut Johnson out — no catches on three targets.
“Ike Taylor stood up,” Steelers safety Will Allen said. “Taylor had him man-to-man the whole game. Taylor came through. That’s what he gets paid for and that’s what he did. He got his hands on him and made it hard for him.
“Everybody knows how great Calvin Johnson is. No catches in the second half — Taylor locked it down.”
Johnson politely declined to comment after the game, but the Lions insisted the Steelers played two-deep coverage on Johnson the entire game.
“The game plan was the game plan,” Taylor said, coyly. “We stuck with it. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We finished pretty good.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might have said it best, though. Asked what the Steelers did to limit Johnson in the second half, he said, “It might just have been what they didn’t do. That guy is an awesome football player.”
The rain fell throughout the game and the field got steadily worse, but the Lions weren’t accepting that as an excuse.
“It’s football,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “It wasn’t raining too hard. A game like this, against the Steelers at Heinz Field, you have to love it.”
Stephen Tulloch wouldn’t go that far.
“It was tough,” he said. “They had a college game on Saturday and obviously a game today. The conditions weren’t the best, but we still need to play ball. We need to make plays that come to us. Unfortunately, we left a lot of plays on the field and they took advantage of it.”
Schwartz scoffed when asked about the conditions.
“We didn’t have anybody lose their footing on those first two drives,” he said.