PITTSBURGH — Jeff Reed kicked a
33-yard field goal with 4:32 gone in overtime and the Super Bowl
champion Pittsburgh Steelers again relied on Ben Roethlisberger's
ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans
13-10 in the NFL season opener Thursday night.
The Steelers, their running game
stuffed by Tennessee's defense, didn't get going until Roethlisberger
began repeatedly finding Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward open downfield.
Roethlisberger went 33 of 43 for 363 yards, with Holmes — the Super
Bowl star — making nine catches for 131 yards and Ward, despite a
potentially costly fumble, making eight for 103.
The Titans lost the coin toss to
start the overtime and, as so often happens, never saw the ball again.
Roethlisberger, who also led a touchdown drive at the end of the first
half, hit Ward for 11, Holmes for 11 and rookie Mike Wallace for 22.
Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on
first down to win it.
Pittsburgh looked ready to win it
late in regulation when Roethlisberger, so adept at running the
two-minute offense, took advantage of good field position created by a
shanked Craig Hentrich punt to find Ward on a 30-yard completion to the
Titans 4. But as Ward was trying to muscle his way closer to the goal
line, Michael Griffin stripped the ball and Stephen Tulloch recovered
with less than a minute remaining.
Even with no running game to support
him — the Steelers were outrushed 86-36 as Willie Parker was held to 19
yards on 13 carries — Roethlisberger had one of the biggest games of
his career. Tennessee's Kerry Collins, usually the caretaker of a
run-first offense, was 22 of 35 for 244 yards after having only four
games of 200 yards or more last season.
The Titans never led until Rob
Bironas, who had missed twice from inside the 40, connected from 45
yards with 11:03 remaining after Collins kept the drive moving with
15-yard completions to rookie Kenny Britt and Justin Gage.
The Steelers tied it on Jeff Reed's
32-yarder with 2:57 to go, but only after Mewelde Moore was held to 1
yard on two plays. Reed, under pressure, barely got off a low line
drive that squeezed through the uprights.
Roethlisberger was 7-of-7 for 57
yards on the drive but the Steelers' game-long lack of a running game
again caused a drive to stall after they had a second-and-2 at the 10.
The Titans were the last team to beat
the Steelers, winning 31-17 on Dec. 21 to gain home-field advantage
throughout the AFC playoffs, but they never won again and the Steelers
never lost again. Still, Steelers' fans remembered how LenDale White,
Keith Bulluck and several Titans players stomped all over Terrible
Towels at the end of the game, and it created a buzz of anticipation
for a rematch that appeared likely to occur in January but didn't.
Instead, this game appeared to be a
throwback not to last season, but to the 1970s, when the Titans'
predecessors, the Oilers, twice met and lost to the Steelers and their
famed Steel Curtain defense in the AFC championship game. All that was
missing were some Jack Lambert hits on Earl Campbell.
The Titans spent the first quarter
tromping on a Steelers offense that managed all of 1 yard. Then, after
Bironas' 31-yarder was blocked by Aaron Smith — he missed earlier from
the 27 following a bad snap — both teams suddenly found their offenses.
Roethlisberger, again a master of
the two-minute drive, needed only five plays to lead a 79-yard drive in
which he found familiar target Ward for 29 yards ahead of his 34-yard
touchdown throw to Holmes.
Yes, those two again.
After finally gaining some of the momentum that Tennessee held most of the half, the Steelers gave it right back.
With the Steelers defense missing
both safety Troy Polamalu (knee), who had earlier made a remarkable,
one-handed interception, linebacker LaMarr Woodley (leg cramps), the
Titans needed only three plays to tie it. Collins found Britt with no
defender within 10 yards on him for a 57-yard completion to the 14.
Collins then hit an equally wide-open Gage in the end zone with
48 seconds left in the half.
Polamalu hurt his left knee when a
Titans player fell on him while he was trying to pick up the blocked
field goal. He did not immediately leave the field for treatment, as
usually occurs when a player has a serious injury, but he did not play
Titans Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland
Finnegan ended the half with an 80-yard interception return to the
Steelers' 20. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions in the half after
throwing none — and eight touchdowns — while winning his first three
There were the usual trappings of an
NFL season opener. A free concert by Tim McGraw and the Black Eyed Peas
attracted tens of thousands of fans at a nearby riverfront park, scores
of boats put down anchor on the three rivers near Heinz Field.
The U.S. ambassador to Ireland also
flew in for the occasion. (OK, so it was Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who
can't make most games this season but wasn't about to miss this one.)