Steelers 19, Titans 11
By Mike Batista
This is exactly how the Steelers need to win games without Ben Roethlisberger.
Don't expect much from the offense, hope you get a little help from special teams and let your defense carry you.
Boy, did the Steelers' defense carry them Sunday in their 19-11 win over the Titans.
Chris Johnson, a.k.a. Mr. 2,500, was limited to 34 yards on 16 carries, snapping his streak of 12 straight 100-yard games, and the Steelers were without Casey Hampton. The Steelers induced seven turnovers, the most they've forced since 1997, and the most the Titans have committed since 2000.
The Steelers' defense seized the Titans' offense like a python around a helpless rabbit.
Still, you didn't think the Steelers would escape without a little bit of peril, did you?
After all, this is Tennessee.
This is the place where Joe Nedney infamously deemed himself a master thespian after kicking the winning field goal in overtime of a 2002 playoff game.
This is the place where Tommy Maddox was taken off the field in an ambulance after a paralysis scare earlier in the 2002 season.
This is the place where, on that same day, a Titans assistant coach furtively threw coffee on Joey Porter when a play took Porter to the Titans' sideline.
The Steelers entered Sunday's game with just one win in the "Take Me to Another Place" state since the franchise moved there in 1997.
And so it was that the Steelers' transcendent defensive performance Sunday was merely just enough to let those ghosts out of their skull.
It looked like only pride would be on the line when the Titans moved into the red zone with two minutes left in the game and the Steelers leading 19-3.
When the Titans got to the Steelers' 1, Troy Polamalu hurdled the line of scrimmage like only he can and tackled Kerry Collins for a 1-yard loss. It seemed like the perfect way for the Steelers' defense to put a dramatic bow on two touchdown-free games to start the season.
Two plays later, however, formerly butterfingered Steeler Nate Washington caught a touchdown pass from Collins and the Titans made the 2-point conversion to narrow the Steelers' lead to 19-11.
The Titans then recovered the onsides kick and with no timeouts got to the Steelers' 31 with 20 seconds left.
Prodigal son Bryant McFadden offered a flashback to the final drive of the Steelers' 2005 playoff win over the Colts when he broke up a pass intended for Washington in the end zone. Then the Titans' last-ditch effort petered out with back-to-back false start penalties.
Even though Mike Tomlin says Steelers football is 60 minutes, I am unfazed by the last two minutes considering what happened in the first 58.
The Titans tried to make the Steelers roast by having them wear their black jerseys with the temperature 87 degrees at kickoff, the hottest in the 90 games played at LP Field.
They'd have been better off throwing coffee on them.
The heat forced many Steelers players to double over in exhaustion and take frequent breaks during the game. The most coveted seats on the Steelers' sideline were under a makeshift canopy.
Two members of the Steelers' most recent draft class provided another cooling effect. Sixth-rounder Antonio Brown returned the game's opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown on a play that started on a reverse from Mewelde Moore.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, fifth-rounder Stevenson Sylvester forced a fumble that was picked up by Keyaron Fox.
The Steelers coughed up the ball themselves three plays later, but when the defense first walked into the 100-yard sauna, it had a seven-point cushion.
Scratching and surviving
The closest the Titans came to taking the lead was midway through the first quarter when they got to the Steelers' 16 trailing 7-3. Vince Young, who was pulled for Collins in the second half, was then picked off in the end zone by Polamalu. The Steelers turned that into a field goal, and maintained at least a one-touchdown lead for the rest of the afternoon.
Unlike last season, Polamalu got through the game against the Titans injury-free. After condensing a Pro Bowl-caliber season into the first quarter and a half of last season only to get hurt, Polamalu has waited two games this season to amass his Pro Bowl credentials.
The flowing locks don't have to fly on every play for Polamalu to have an impact. It's a whole different game if the Titans take the lead in the first quarter. And if he doesn't vault a snarl of 300-pound bodies to tackle Collins near the end of the game, the Titans would have had a few more precious seconds to mount a game-tying drive.
This likely would have been a vintage 2009 choke without Polamalu.
Another player the Steelers need to have any championship hopes is Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers' win on Sunday harks back to many of their wins in the pre-Roethlisberger era, when they were good enough to get into the playoffs, but fell short of the Super Bowl because their offense wasn't quite powerful enough. With a special teams touchdown and four field goals Sunday, they built their lead like "Survivor" contestants constructing a thatched hut.
The Steelers need to get through two more games without Roethlisberger. They just don't know who the babysitter will be at quarterback. Dennis Dixon's demeanor in the pocket Sunday often looked like that of a McDonald's customer perusing the menu not knowing what he wants. He was sacked twice in the first quarter before hurting his knee (he was scheduled for an MRI) and giving way to Charlie Batch.
While Batch completed only five passes for 25 yards, his movement in the pocket and zip on the ball made him look about 10 years younger, which means he looked about 45. But seriously, he looked competent enough to man the steering wheel until Oct. 4.
Then again, Byron Leftwich was scheduled to return from his furlough on Monday.
So who starts at quarterback for the Steelers Sunday at Tampa Bay is anybody's guess.
Regardless of who it is, if the Steelers come close to replicating Sunday's performance, Roethlisberger will be stepping into a good situation.