PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a perfect preseason debut.
Roethlisberger delivered a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and led the Steelers first team offense to a pair of touchdowns, and Pittsburgh defeated the Detroit Lions 26-20 on Saturday night.
“I’m just trying to win a football game,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s preseason and I wanted to stay healthy. It was good to be there and to play.”
Roethlisberger had his first opportunity to work with freshman offensive coordinator Matt Canada during an in-game setting.
The 39-year-old Roethlisberger brought Canada’s up-tempo approach to near perfection in three series. He finished 8 of 10 for 137 yards and two touchdowns, both for rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth.
Mason Rudolph followed and led Pittsburgh to three field goals, 13 of 18 for 138 yards. Dwayne Haskins led the charge to another field goal, as the Steelers scored on six of their first seven possessions.
“I thought the effort was excellent,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Lions were sitting with several regulars, including quarterback Jared Goff, who was acquired as part of the Matthew Stafford trade. Tim Boyle started in the middle on Saturday and the Lions were not able to cross midfield until late in the third quarter.
Detroit also sat linemen Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, receiver Tyrell Williams and tight end T.J. Hockenson on the attack.
Godwin Igwebbuike, Javon McKinley and Craig Reynolds all scored three Detroit touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously we didn’t have a couple of guys, but we can’t lean on that like a crutch,” Boyle said. “We should have done better in the first half of the performance, we can’t ignore that. I’m not very happy with how we played in that first group.”
Roethlisberger was 4 out of 5 on the third attempt down. His only misfire came on the Steelers opening stage when the 18-year veteran stepped into the sack and rolled out to dodge the pressure, but the tight end Eric Ebron couldn’t come up with the first-down grab.
Roethlisberger converted all three third down attempts on the Steelers’ first touchdown drive. Roethlisberger aired a 43-yard deep ball to Diontae Johnson at third-and-3 and got Lions safety Tracy Walker to bite on a hard pump fake for his first touchdown to Freiermuth in the back of the end zone.
Roethlisberger was successful on his only third attempt at the Steelers’ third stage. He found Freiermuth, the Penn State Steelers’ second-round pick, who jumped into the back of the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.
“If the ball comes my way, I have to play,” Freiermuth said. “That’s why they lined me up where they did. I’ll just keep making plays.”
HARRIS MAKES IMPACT
Steeler’s rookie first-round running back Najee Harris had a strong Heinz Field debut with six hits for 63 yards.
Harris’ biggest piece came on the third set. Roethlisberger hit Harris with a short pass and the rookie turned it into a long win as he raced Lions linebacker Jahlani Tavai to the sidelines for a 46-yard pick-up, setting up Pittsburgh’s second touchdown.
In his rookie season, Harris, a former Alabama star, will be tasked with playing behind a revamped offensive line, while also helping to improve on a hasty offense that finished last in the NFL last season.
“I was excited to see Najee’s catch-and-run,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t think his rushing songs were great, but we didn’t need it because we saw him doing other things.”
CHECK THE GAME
The Steelers promoted Canada from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after Randy Fichtner’s contract was not renewed after a first-round loss to Cleveland.
Canada believes in dictating and changing the pace in its attack and the Steelers dominated possession by a two-for-one margin in the first half against the Lions. They also defeated Detroit 285-65 in the first half.
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LIONS BACKUP QB BATTLE
Boyle, the Lions’ expected backup quarterback, played in the third quarter, finishing 7 of 15 for 44 yards. Boyle started 2 of 7 for 14 yards with an intentional ground as the Lions kicked their first five possessions.
David Blough came in midway through the third quarter and finished 12 of 17 for 143 yards and a touchdown. He led the Lions to three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and threw a score to McKinley in the corner of the end zone late in the game.
“I thought Blough was leading the team and giving us a chance to try and do something at the end of the game,” said Lions coach Dan Campbell. “Certainly, in the first half we have to clean up a lot.”
Detroit: host Indianapolis on Friday.
Pittsburgh: in Carolina on Friday.