Detroit's Calvin Johnson is tackled by James Harrison. Johnson left the game in the first quarter with an injured knee.
Duane Burleson / AP Enlarge
DETROIT - The Pittsburgh Steelers avoided losing another game in the fourth quarter.
Their fans helped out - on the road.
Ben Roethlisberger had a season-high three touchdown passes through three quarters, and Pittsburgh's defense was just good enough in the fourth, holding off the Detroit Lions for a 28-20 win yesterday.
The lowly Lions had the ball at their 29 with 3:07 left and two timeouts and a chance to send the game into overtime against the defending champions.
Thousands of black-and-gold clad fans chanted "DE-FENSE!" and twirled Terrible Towels to help Pittsburgh keep Detroit out of the end zone.
"That worked in our favor," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who snapped his sackless season with 1 1/2 on Detroit's last drive. "Those offensive linemen couldn't hear the snap count, so they had to watch the ball just like we do."
Steelers linebacker James Harrison had three sacks, matching the total he had entering the game, and forced a fumble, much to the delight of many of the folks who filled Ford Field. The Steelers finished with seven sacks. The game drew 59,333 fans, and at least half looked and sounded like they were rooting for the visitors.
"Man, they traveled awesome," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "It was spectacular to stand on the visiting sideline and see the fan support that we had today in this building."
Pittsburgh has sold out 283 straight home games, leading to throngs of its fans making the 4 1/2-hour drive to Detroit to take advantage of plenty of seats being available at the venue where the franchise won the Super Bowl in 2006.
"It brought back a lot of memories," said Hines Ward, who caught a TD pass. "We had just as many fans as we did that time."
For the first time this season, the Steelers (3-2) won on the road - after blowing fourth-quarter leads at Cincinnati and Chicago - and won consecutive games.
"We'll get rolling from here with Cleveland coming to town next week," Woodley said.
Rashard Mendenhall's TD run midway through the first quarter gave Pittsburgh the lead and Roethlisberger's third TD pass provided a 15-point cushion with 6:05 left in the third.
The Lions (1-4) rallied with Daunte Culpepper's 25-yard TD pass to Dennis Northcutt to pull within eight with 4:57 to go. They got to the Pittsburgh 21 before three sacks pushed them back to midfield, forcing Culpepper to heave a pass that was knocked down by cornerback Ike Taylor just outside the goal line.
"We didn't always play smart in that game, and we didn't always play well, but I'm proud that we battled the whole way," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. "There were a couple places where it would have been easy for us to give in, and we didn't do that."
Roethlisberger was 23-of-30 for 277 yards with TD passes to Mike Wallace, Ward, and Heath Miller. One poorly thrown deep out was intercepted by William James and returned 38 yards for a score in the second quarter.
The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback made up for it on the next drive, connecting with Ward on a 17-yard pass to give the Steelers a 21-13 lead.
"I don't feel like I'm playing well," Roethlisberger said. "I'm disappointed in my performance."
Culpepper played in place of No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford (right knee) and was 23-for-37 for 282 yards with a TD and an interception.
"I still think we have a good ballclub here, but a good ballclub will look at a situation like this and use it to find a way to start winning these games," Culpepper said. "That's what we have to find a way to do."
NOTES: Lions WR Calvin Johnson (right knee) left in the first quarter and was hobbled as he simply tried to walk after the game. ... Pittsburgh S Troy Polamalu (left knee) and RB Willie Parker (left toe) were inactive. ... Lions LB Larry Foote, who spent his first seven seasons with the Steelers, hugged and chatted with his former teammates in their locker room after the game. "We still love Foote," Ward said. "Regardless, he's still a part of this organization." ... Roethlisberger said he's excited to be scheduled to make an upcoming appearance - via satellite from his home - on The Jay Leno Show.
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