PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger never got off the bench in a return to Heinz Field that couldn't have been much quieter. Byron Leftwich probably wishes he had stayed on the sideline, too.
Leftwich, the quarterback who will replace the suspended Roethlisberger when the season starts, was ineffective despite playing much longer than expected, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still beat the Detroit Lions 23-7 behind backup Dennis Dixon on Saturday night.
Leftwich was outplayed by Matthew Stafford in the Lions quarterback's first game action since injuring a shoulder against Cincinnati on Dec. 6. After Stafford left following a 2-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson, the Steelers came back from a 7-6 deficit as Dixon led scoring drives of 75, 79 and 68 yards with reserves playing.
A night that couldn't have been any shorter for Roethlisberger, who never bothered to put on a helmet or warm up, was much longer than expected for both teams as lightning and heavy rain stopped play for 1 hour, 13 minutes late in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger's behavior during a March night of drinking in Georgia that led to accusations of sexual assault but no charges visibly stirred anger among Steelers fans. But, five months later, his first appearance in a Steelers uniform since then was greeted with shrugs. The only crowd reaction came when a few fans chanted, "We want Ben, we want Ben" as Leftwich struggled.
When the rain finally let up, the teams played the final 1 minute, 37 seconds of the first half and then immediately began the second half with many in the crowd of 55,248 already long gone.
Coach Mike Tomlin has emphasized getting ready for the start of the season during training camp, which means Leftwich gets as much practice time with the regulars as Roethlisberger, who can't play until mid-October at the earliest. But Leftwich got all the work against the Lions, and much of it wasn't good.
Leftwich was expected to play eight to 12 snaps, but instead played nearly twice that as Tomlin was displeased with the offense's first two series. Two running backs fumbled, Leftwich was sacked for 8 yards and also unintentionally spiked a pass as the starters gained only 16 yards in 12 plays.
Stafford (8 of 11, 61 yards, 1 TD) was much more efficient than Leftwich (6 of 10, 43 yards) although the 68-yard drive that ended with Stafford's scoring pass was accomplished against mostly backup defenders.
Leftwich played until midway into the second quarter while leading a 61-yard drive against Lions reserves that ended with the second of Jeff Reed's three field goals. Reed converted from 35, 37 and 32 yards on a pristine Heinz Field grass field that has rarely looked so lush.
The Lions, a combined 2-30 the last two seasons, did little with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton at quarterback. They drove to the Steelers' 7 early in the second half, but DeDe Dorsey fumbled and the Steelers ate up more than nine minutes of the quarter with a field goal drive.
Dixon, playing two quarters, threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to sixth-round pick Antonio Brown midway through the fourth quarter while going 6 of 7 for 128 yards. He also ran six times for 31 yards.
Dixon's 51-yard completion to Arnaz Battle with Eric King in coverage led to Isaac Redman's 1-yard touchdown run during the second quarter. Redman, a free agent from Bowie State who first made a splash during last year's training camp, carried 15 times for 60 yards and appears to be the frontrunner to back up starter Rashard Mendenhall.
Jahvid Best, a first-round pick by the Lions, had a 15-yard run while carrying six times for 29 yards in a brief but effective debut. Defensive end Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 pick in the April draft who signed for a guaranteed $40 million, played briefly but made no tackles.