New Lions coach Steve Mariucci prowls the sidelines. His defense played well and a well executed two-minute-drill touchdown put his team ahead.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge
DETROIT - It was just a preseason game, and the opener at that, but for a team that is hungry for a new beginning the Detroit Lions got a taste of just that with a 26-13 victory over Pittsburgh yesterday at Ford Field.
“That was a nice experience,” said new coach Steve Mariucci, whose off-season hiring signaled new hope for a downtrodden franchise. “We have light years to go, but there were a lot of encouraging things.”
Among them were two scores by an aggressive defense, a near-perfect touchdown drive in the two-minute drill, no serious injuries and some significant contributions by rookies.
Nothing was more encouraging, though, than the W.
“That's huge,” said quarterback Joey Harrington. “I remember last year when we lost four in the preseason [actually, the Lions went 1-3 by winning the final game]. As much as the games don't count, the losses wear on you and certainly don't help your confidence going into the season.”
Detroit seemed to approach this game as if it did count, and 58,735 fans showed up to lend an air of importance.
The Lions' defense led the way, holding a pretty good Steelers offense to minus-15 yards in its first 10 plays and to just 13 completions and two third-down conversions during the course of the game.
Linebacker Barrett Green put the first points on the board by breaking through untouched to tackle Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox in the end zone for a safety with 10:39 remaining in the first quarter.
In the second half, a pair of rookies would combine to produce a defensive touchdown. Linebacker James Davis sacked the Steelers' No. 3 quarterback, Brian St. Pierre, and caused a fumble that was recovered by Cory Redding and returned from six yards out for a score.
“The safety was on a stunt call and I love us being that aggressive down there,” Green said. “[The defense] was up first and we wanted to come out and set a tempo. I liked our attitude all day. We have a lot more speed out there this season and I think we can be among the top defenses in the league if we can get off the field on third downs the way we did today.”
Harrington played the entire first half, which is unusual for a starting quarterback in a preseason opener, and finished on a high note by guiding the Lions' hurry-up offense 80 yards in eight plays to score a touchdown just five seconds before halftime. His six completions accounted for the entire yardage in the drive; 85 yards, in fact, to make up for an offensive penalty.
The second-year quarterback connected on his first two passes of the game, but the offense was pretty ineffective thereafter until the late first-half scoring drive.
Harrington finished 13 of 25 for 136 yards.
“The passing game was up and down,” he said. “I didn't set my feet and missed on a few and we had some guys hesitate on routes. We weren't decisive enough. But, all in all, we did a decent job against a great defense. And the two-minute offense went really smooth, which is good considering it was our first game experience with it.”
Harrington's touchdown drive in the two-minute drill was highlighted by the last two completions, the first a 22-yard toss and a savvy sideline catch by rookie David Kircus from Grand Valley State. On the next play, Harrington found Scotty Anderson streaking toward the corner of the end zone and lofted a strike that Anderson snagged despite tight defense.
That gave the Lions a 9-6 halftime lead and backup quarterback Mike McMahon, the second-half starter, soon made it 16-6 with a 17-play drive that was sparked by a 49-yard completion to tight end Casey Fitzsimmons.
McMahon passed for 64 yards and was the No. 2 rusher with 26 more on the ground as the Lions took a 298-224 edge in net yards.