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Lions vs. Steelers: Detroit's decision to fake field goal cost them momentum

The Steelers used the partially open door left by a gutsy fake field goal failure to their advantage. It sparked one of the best drives of the Steelers' season.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

If teams were to code certain plays in terms of likelihood of happening at a particular time, a fake field goal from Pittsburgh's 5-yard line when up 24-20 in the fourth quarter would have figured somewhere near "punt" and "kneel-down."

It was a curious decision by Jim Schwartz, to put it mildly.


The Steelers have been the benefactors of risky special teams calls in two of their wins. Ravens coach John Harbaugh had his squad attempt an onside kick in a similar situation, only to fall short of the hoped gain. The Lions call was no different.

For as much as FOX color analyst Brian Billick droned on about it never being a good call in retrospect, it does bring up a simple point; they pay Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford a huge amount each, why not just let them go for five yards if you want to take the risk?

The result of failure in that situation gives life to an opponent, and that, not the points not realized, is the real risk.

The Steelers offense was, for all intents and purposes, dead, at that point in the game. It had gained 52 yards in its previous five drives, didn't seem to have much of any momentum. While that exact stat is likely to have figured into Schwartz's decision, it gave the Steelers the opening it needed.

It isn't like they just stopped them. Nose tackle Steve McLendon knocked the ball loose, and Cameron Heyward put a big hit on the Lions' scrawny punter/holder. It clearly fired the team up.

The Steelers went 97 yards in 16 plays, and didn't only vanquish the team's immediate enemy - the Lions - but their other enemy, the Red Zone. Roethlisberger converted a third-and-nine as well as a third-and-12 on the drive, hitting six different receivers for 79 yards, including the all-but-forgotten fullback Will Johnson for the touchdown.

Fake field goals are the risk of all risks. Perhaps the Lions end the game if they score. But they left the door open by failing. And ultimately, that cost them all leverage they had to squeeze the game dry.

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