After a Chris Boswell 37-yard field goal put the Steelers ahead 17-16, Lions seventh-round draft pick Dwayne Washington, a running back from the University of Washington, gave Detroit the lead for good with a 96-yard kickoff return.
With 13 minutes left in the quarter, rookie quarterback Jake Rudock of Michigan led a 74-yard drive that ended with a Jace Billingsley with a 27-yard touchdown for the game’s final score.
Rudock, Detroit’s third quarterback, finished 8 of 11 for 72 yards and a score.
Steelers regulars Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones and rookie first-round pick cornerback Artie Burns all were held out of the game.
Lions tight end Eric Ebron, cornerback Darius Slay, running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata were also out.
Detroit’s Matthew Stafford played just one series, connecting on 4 of 6 passes for 58 yards before Steelers veteran linebacker James Harrison’s sack and forced fumble halted the drive.
Pittsburgh took a 7-0 lead when the Steelers defense forced their second turnover of the game. Cornerback Doran Grant intercepted Dan Orlovsky and returned the pick 39 yards for a score.
“It was a great play,” said Steelers starting safety Mike Mitchell. “He got the crowd into it and us into it. It was huge for momentum. It was big for him to get going. We want to be a group that creates turnovers.”
Matt Prater connected on a 29-yard field goal to make it 7-3, but the Steelers answered with a 6-play, 75-yard drive. Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Landry Jones to extend the Steelers lead to 14-3.
“I redeemed myself from earlier, dropping the ball,” said Heyward-Bey. “Coach Tomlin always tells me to stay focused and move on to the next play. I had an opportunity to show that right there.”
Jones finished 6 of 12 for 55 yards and a score for the Steelers.
Andre Roberts scored on a 28-yard pass from Orlovsky before the two-minute warning. Orlovsky finished 16 of 25 for 164 yards with a touchdown and the interception by Grant.
The Lions got two field goals, 31-yards from Prater and 42-yards from Devon Bell, to take a 16-14 lead before Boswell took the lead back for the Steelers with his fourth quarter kick.
The Steelers host Philadelphia next Thursday night at 7 PM in their second exhibition game.