Lions end 12-game losing streak but can muster only a wild tie against Steelers

·4-min read

A tie is better than a loss, but try telling that to Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions. They missed a chance to earn their first victory of the 2021 season and the franchise's first in the past 13 games, dating back to last season, on Sunday at Heinz Field. 

Instead, the Lions earned a 16-16 tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which had to feel disappointing for both teams.

The Steelers couldn't have been happy either. They had their chances late, too. But the Lions were in position to win their first game in Pittsburgh since 1955. Detroit's last victory came in Week 13 last year over the Chicago Bears.

Lions kicker Ryan Santoso, who missed an extra-point attempt earlier in regulation, also missed the game-winning field-goal try from 48 yards with 4:08 left in OT.

At the end of overtime, however, a few players on each sideline assumed the game would keep going. This likely was the first tie for some of the younger players in action.

Ben Roethlisberger, who has been part of an NFL tie before, might have helped Najee Harris and others with the postgame confusion. But Roethlisberger was placed in COVID-19 protocol on Saturday, forcing him to miss the game. 

His replacement, Mason Rudolph, struggled and couldn't do enough to avoid the shocking home upset. Rudolph finished 30 of 50 for 229 yards with a TD and a pick.

Detroit's Jared Goff was even less effective. He finished 14-of-25 for 114 yards and was sacked four times. That's a mere 1.6 passing yards per minute played. Gross.

But a potent Lions run game helped stake them to a 16-10 lead in the third quarter, as little-known Godwin Igwebuike rumbled 42 yards for a stunning score. Detroit first got on the board via a 28-yard score from seventh-rounder Jermar Jefferson. D'Andre Swift led the way with 130 rush yards. As a team, Detroit ran for 229 yards.

Following the Igwebuike TD, the Lions missed the subsequent extra-point try, keeping the door open for the Steelers, who tied it with two field goals down the stretch.

The Steelers' run defense tightened late, after it was clear the Lions couldn't effectively throw the ball. Goff entered overtime with a mere 54 yards passing on 20 attempts.

Head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions couldn't quite earn their first win of the season, but they didn't lose either. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions couldn't quite earn their first win of the season, but they didn't lose either. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Overtime was completely bonkers, despite zero points being scored.

Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown on a 30-yard pass play at the start of OT, but the Lions stalled after crossing midfield. The Lions got a big break when Rudolph hit Dionte Johnson, who fumbled and turned the ball back over to Detroit.

On the very next play, Goff looked to be picked off by the Steelers' Minkah Fitzpatrick. But a defensive holding call against Devin Bush wiped out the INT. 

The Lions drove to within field-goal range for the would-be game winner, but Santoso's try wasn't even close. 

Rudolph almost gifted the Lions another pick in overtime, but the Lions dropped it. A terribly unsatisfying tie looked highly probable at this point.

However, the Lions called timeout before a crucial third down with just over a minute remaining, hoping to save time for their offense if they could stop the Steelers on third down. They did not, and the Steelers drove all the way to the Detroit 39-yard line.

Right when it looked like the Steelers might have a chance to kick a game-winning field goal, rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth coughed up a fumble in the waning seconds.

The Lions had one final shot to win it, but their last effort to catch, lateral and run came up way short. 

It was better than another loss, but it also symbolized the struggle that has been the 2021 season for the Lions and Campbell, their rookie head coach. They keep fighting, but that elusive first victory for Campbell has evaded him for at least another week.

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