PITTSBURGH (AP) — Playing without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who entered the COVID-19 protocol on Saturday night, the Steelers slotted their way to a 16-16 tie with the Detroit Lions on Sunday in an ugly nearly four-hour marathon that produced more comedy than highlights.
Mason Rudolph completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but struggled with consistency while making a spot start. Najee Harris ran for 105 yards and at times appeared to be Pittsburgh’s only legitimate offensive weapon as the Steelers (5-3-1) saw their four-game winning streak halted in the dank mist at rainy Heinz Field.
De’Andre Swift ran for a career-high 130 yards for the Lions (0-8-1), who relied heavily on the run to avoid a ninth straight loss with quarterback Jared Goff rendered almost completely ineffective.
Goff connected on 14 of 25 passes for just 114 yards as the NFL saw its first tie since Cincinnati and Philadelphia played to a draw after 70 minutes on Sept. 27, 2020.
Both teams squandered opportunities in the extra period.
Rudolph hit Diontae Johnson for a 39-yard gain down the sideline, but Johnson fumbled while fighting for extra yards. Detroit’s Amani Oruwariye fell on it at the Lions 45.
Detroit, helped greatly by a pair of defensive penalties, moved in position for a 48-yard field goal attempt. But Ryan Santoso, filling in for injured Austin Seibert, saw his kick flutter well short into the open end of the stadium.
The Steelers had one last chance as time wound down. But tight end Pat Freiermuth fumbled near the Detroit sideline with 9 seconds left. A series of laterals by the Lions on the final play ended far short of the end zone as the clock mercifully hit all zeros.
Pittsburgh had successfully avoided putting anyone on the COVID-19 list through nine weeks, the only team in the league that could make that claim. The run of good fortune ended on Saturday night when Roethlisberger went into the protocol, giving Rudolph an unexpected start — and perhaps a preview of what could await down the road with Roethlisberger’s status beyond early January uncertain at best.
Rudolph, who is signed through next season, took Pittsburgh right down the field for a touchdown on its opening drive, finishing it with a 9-yard lob to James Washington.
That’s where the good vibes ended. By the end of the first quarter, Rudolph had thrown a pick, and by the end of the opening half the Lions had forged a 10-10 tie behind a running game that gashed Pittsburgh’s injury-decimated defensive front.
Lions: Lost RB Jemar Jefferson to an ankle injury suffered at the end of his 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. ... S Tracy Walker was placed into the concussion protocol following a third-quarter collision with Rudolph. ... OLB Trey Flowers left in the third quarter with a knee injury but returned. ... Tackle Matt Nelson exited in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
Steelers: star LB T.J. Watt left in the third quarter with a hip injury and did not return. He was hurt when he took down Goff to push his sack total to 12 1/2. ... LG Kevin Dotson went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter. J.C. Hassenauer replaced Dotson. Veteran cornerback Joe Haden exited in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. ... RG Trai Turner was hurt in the third quarter with an ankle injury and was replaced by Joe Haeg, who normally plays tackle.
Lions: travel to Cleveland next Sunday.
Steelers: Begin a difficult two-month stretch to end the season with a trip to Los Angeles for a prime-time matchup with the Chargers next Sunday.