ALLEN PARK, Mich. — When Matthew Stafford and the Lions left the field at halftime, it looked like there was nothing the Pittsburgh Steelers could do to stop Detroit’s offense.
That’s what made the last two quarters so surprising.
“We just didn’t execute,” Stafford said. “They came out in the second half and played a little bit more two-man. For one reason or another we didn’t connect.”
After scoring 27 points in the second quarter, the Lions went scoreless the rest of the way in Sunday’s 37-27 loss at Pittsburgh. The weather wasn’t great, but it was still a startling collapse for a Detroit team that seemed to be finding a groove.
Stafford threw for 327 yards in the first half — and only 35 in the second. Calvin Johnson caught six passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, but that was all in the first half.
“Early in the game, they were playing a lot of single-high. We forced them out of that quick,” Stafford said. “In the second quarter, they went to a little bit more two-man and we just weren’t able to get them out of that.”
The Lions may have some extra help for Johnson and Stafford this weekend against Tampa Bay. Receiver Nate Burleson, who has been out since late September after hurting his arm in a car accident, is optimistic about his chances to return.
“I’ve still got to get clearance,” Burleson said. “I’m not saying that I am playing for sure, but in my mind, I’m going to wake up (Wednesday) in preparation to be on the field and get into the game plan and try to play on Sunday.”
Reggie Bush managed only 31 yards on 12 carries Sunday, and Stafford did not complete a pass in 10 fourth-quarter attempts. The defense didn’t hold up either, allowing Pittsburgh to drive 97 yards for the touchdown that put the Steelers ahead 30-27 with 4:46 to play.
“As a team, we lost that,” Burleson said. “It was clear — all three phases. It’s good and bad. It’s bad because we had more than enough opportunities to win that game. The good thing is, we didn’t play the game we wanted by any means and still almost won it.”
The Lions (6-4) are tied with Chicago atop the NFC North, and Detroit swept its two meetings with the Bears this season. Still, a week ago the Lions were alone in first place and looked like they had a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Stafford led a dramatic comeback in the final seconds in a victory over Dallas, and he threw a crucial touchdown pass late in a win at Chicago. The 25-year-old quarterback seemed to be maturing into the type of franchise player the Lions were hoping for when they took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
But this team is under pressure to make the playoffs, especially since the Bears and Green Bay Packers have been limited by injury problems. The next two home games will be crucial for Detroit. The Lions host Tampa Bay (2-8) this weekend in a game they’re favored to win — then they have a short break before their Thanksgiving showdown against Green Bay.
“It’s good for guys mentally to move on. That’s the way this league is,” Stafford said. “You have to get ready for the next opponent. This is a team that, again, we don’t play very often. We have to study them. On the defensive side of the ball, they’re extremely talented.”
Tampa Bay has won two straight games after an 0-8 start, and cornerback Darrelle Revis has Stafford’s respect.
“He’s competitive, strong, he stays square, he’s a smart player, has good speed, great ball skills,” Stafford said. “He’s definitely one of the best, if not the best.”
NOTES: The Lions placed running back Montell Owens on injured reserve and resigned tight end Dorin Dickerson.