This was, well, quite a game. Injuries, penalties, backup quarterbacks, a total of eight turnovers -- everyone expected the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans showdown to be crazy, but through it all, the Steelers defense just wouldn't quit.
The Steelers hadn't won in Tennessee since November 25, 2001. And they did it with their fourth-string quarterback.
But the biggest question going into the game was: Can the Steelers contain Titans running back Chris Johnson? He's had 12 straight 100-yard games. Well, the Steelers put that debate to rest. Johnson ran for only 34 yards on 16 carries. He did have a brilliant 85-yard TD run, but that was called back due to a holding penalty.
Finally, it's the Steel Curtain all Steelers fans know and love. Things got a little scary toward the end, when during the last minute of the game, Titans backup QB Kerry Collins (oh, more on that later) threw a TD pass to Nate Washington (an ex-Steeler) and got the 2-point conversion. It was the first touchdown the Steelers had given up all season.
Then of course, just to keep things interesting, the Titans recovered the onside kick. But the defense again was formidable and unstoppable, as cornerback Bryant McFadden and safety Ryan Clark were able to break up a pass in the endzone meant for Washington, two false starts by the offense broke up their rhythm, and linebacker Lawrence Timmons crushed the hopes of fantasy players everywhere by tackling Johnson after a short reception and ending the game.
But let's get back to the turnovers. The Steelers had three picks and four fumble recoveries. And they did this all without starting nose tackle Casey Hampton. All the big names stepped up: Troy Polamalu had an incredible interception in the endzone (as well as a perfectly timed jump over the line of scrimmage at the end of the game to stuff Collins for a loss, how insane was that?), James Harrison forced a fumble and recovered another, LaMarr Woodley also earned himself an interception -- it was stuff that would bring a tear to any Steelers' fan eye.
It was the most turnovers the Steelers forced in 13 years, when they caused 7 against Baltimore back in 1997.
Not only did the starting QB for the Titans Vince Young get pulled (he completed 7 for 10 for 66 yards, but also was intercepted twice and fumbled once), but the Steelers' third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon got injured during the second quarter with a sprained knee, so good ol' Charlie Batch stepped in. Batch completed 5 for 11 for 25 yards (yep ... 11 passes in two and a half quarters). Dixon went 4 for 6 for 18 yards -- and he ran for 28 -- but also lost a fumble, which was caused by Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon.
With two old-school veteran quarterbacks leading the offense, it became a battle of wills. The Steelers were too afraid to do anything but run (Rashard Mendenhall ran for 69 yards with 23 carries and helped run out the clock), while Collins was intercepted, sacked, and fumbled twice, but ended up throwing for 149 yards and that TD at the end.
There were no style points to be had for the Steelers offense. They had a total of 7 first downs, one due to a penalty. Mike Wallace had 2 catches for 25 yards and was the top Steelers receiver for the day. Needless to say, the Steelers offense struggled, but Batch didn't commit any turnovers or make any huge mistakes. The Steelers offense had 127 total yards, while the Titans offense racked up 238. Clearly the defense and special teams had the last say in this one.
If your head isn't spinning yet (mine certainly is, and I can't even blame it on the beer this time), the Steelers special teams (special teams??) actually helped win the day, with rookie Antonio Brown returning the opening kickoff 89 yards down the field, the Steelers' only touchdown. When was the last time the Steelers returned a kickoff for a TD? 1955? Then right after that, Steelers rookie linebacker Stevenson Sylvester stripped the ball from Titans rookie Marc Mariani after a 33-yard kick return, which made one thing perfectly clear: This was going to be a ridiculous game. Steelers kicker Jeff Reed, who missed a game-winning field goal last week, was four for four today, so we can now forgive him for that.
The Steelers play the unbeaten Tampa Bay Buccaneers away next week, and who knows who'll start at quarterback. But, as of right now, the Steelers are #1 in the AFC North and the defense is constantly finding ways to win the game. What will this team look like when Ben Roethlisberger comes back? Only two more games until we all find out.
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