DETROIT — Three quick thoughts from the Steelers’ 20–15 win over the Lions.
1. The Steelers are going to the playoffs. Yes, of course it’s too early to say that. It’s the NFL, wild stuff can happen, blah blah blah. Forget it. Pittsburgh is 6–2, and the next four games are at Indianapolis (with a backup quarterback), against the Titans at home, at the Packers (with a backup quarterback) and at the Bengals. The Steelers have more offensive weapons than any other team in the league. They didn’t even play that well Sunday—Ben Roethlisberger missed some open receivers—and they won a road game against a solid team. It was their fourth road win of the year. They will host at least one game in January.
2. In Detroit, the big debate will be about Jim Caldwell’s decisions inside the five-yard line. Facing fourth-and-goal from the one, down 13–12 in the third quarter, Caldwell elected to go for it. The pocket collapsed, Matthew Stafford tried to lunge for the end zone, and he was sacked. Then, after the Steelers scored to go up 20–12, the Lions settled for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the one.
Yes: Caldwell went for the touchdown when a field goal would have given him a lead, and went for a field goal when a touchdown and two-point conversion could have given him a tie. Question both if you want—that’s fair. But the bigger problem is that the Lions are not built to get a yard when they need it. The offensive line gets no push. The receivers are not very good at winning jump balls, which eliminates a decent chunk of the pass plays you might call near the end zone.
3. Golden Tate had the rare unforced fumble, and it came at a horrible time, not that there is ever a good time. With the Lions trailing by five, Matthew Stafford hit Tate for a 34-yard gain, and … you know those debates about whether a pass was caught or dropped? This was both. Tate just lost control of the football. He wasn’t hit, he wasn’t falling, and since this was indoors, it’s hard to blame the wind. The Steelers recovered. It would be lazy analysis to say these are the kinds of things that happen to the Lions. But also: these are the kinds of things that happen to the Lions.