As the legendary Pittsburgh Pirates sportscaster Bob Prince was fond of saying after a big win, “How sweet it is!”
On prime-time TV—only four days after their narrow win in Indianapolis last Sunday—the Pittsburgh Steelers unveiled some remarkable capabilities which, as recently as last Sunday in Indianapolis, had been subject to some serious doubts. Despite shaving the Steelers’ lead to only two points on the first play of the second half, the Titans never were truly competitive in a game dominated by the Black-and-gold on both sides of the ball.
Pittsburgh got off to a fast start on their first possession, driving the ball downfield in six plays for a first-quarter TD—capped by a 41-yard pass to Antonio Brown on a free play when the Titans were flagged at the snap. Then the Steelers added a Chris Boswell field goal after Mike Hilton grabbed a sailing pass by Marcus Mariota for the first of four interceptions. This gave the Steelers an early 10-0 lead but, before they could savor it, the Titans drove down the field for the first of their two TDs, making the score 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Pittsburgh added two more Boswell field goals—including a 50-yard beauty that split the uprights with only 18 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Steelers a 16-7 lead.
After the intermission, but before fans at Heinz Field could even get settled back into their seats, the Titans struck again on the first play of the second half, catching the Steelers’ secondary napping with a 75-yard TD pass from Mariota to Rishard Matthews. At that point, any number of Steelers fans could be seen banging their heads on coffee tables around the world and mumbling incoherently about what looked like another protracted affair of the cardiac variety taking shape.
But that's when Roethlisberger took the game into his own hands. Three second-half touchdowns and a fourth Boswell field goal later, the Titans’ defense was trying to get the license plate number of the truck that flattened them. On this particular Thursday night, though, they weren’t referring to the Steelers’ ground game, but to a lethal, precision passing attack triggered by Big Ben and energized mainly by the matchless Brown, who finished his night’s work with 10 catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns. On his last TD of the evening in the final quarter, Antonio added to his collection of spectacular catches, pinning a Roethlisberger pass between one hand and his helmet, as he fell to the turf in the corner of the end zone—somehow miraculously maintaining possession.
For the most part, Roethlisberger was deadly accurate, completing 30 of 45 passes for 284 yards, 4 TDs, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 115. A couple of the more interesting stats from this game appear to indicate that Ben altered his approach from what we’ve seen in previous weeks. While Le’Veon Bell was held to only 46 yards rushing on 10 carries, he caught nine passes for 57 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Jesse James combined for 11 catches good for an additional 98 yards. Bryant also took a big stride into the hearts of those who questioned his motivation when he made a heads-up recovery of a fumble by Brown after he caught a bullet from Ben over the middle near the end of the first half, then had the ball punched out of his grasp from behind. Bryant’s heady reaction to get on top of the loose pigskin set the stage for Boswell to strut his stuff by nailing that 50-yard beauty with time nearly expired in the first half.
Total team effort
We’ve got plenty of time to dissect all of the Xs and Os in the coming week, but Pittsburgh’s huge win leaves us with some very encouraging and subjective impressions. For one, the Steelers successfully extended the tenor and tempo they established during their gritty, fourth-quarter rally in Indianapolis last Sunday, but this time it carried through for an entire 60 minutes of football. Putting points on the scoreboard in all four quarters on Thursday night, the Steelers’ offense never took its foot off of the gas. When the Titans opened the third quarter by narrowing the score to 16-14, Pittsburgh responded immediately with a 10-play, 75-yard drive of their own, consuming nearly five minutes on the clock and capped by a 5-yard TD catch by Brown. By the time No. 84 made his incredible helmet-catch in the fourth quarter, there no longer was any doubt which team wanted the win more.
Another big plus was the overall play of the Black-and-gold defense which generally made life miserable for Mariota, sacking him five times in addition to posting nine QB hits. With the exception of a blown secondary coverage on the Titans’ 75-yard touchdown bomb—plus a bit of good fortune when Tennessee’s talented tight end Delanie Walker dropped what might have been a momentum-shifting touchdown pass from Mariota in the third quarter—the Steelers’ defense largely continued its bend-but-don’t-break ways. The Titans were never able to get their running game going, as DeMarco Murray had a pitiful 10 yards rushing on eight carries, while man/beast Derrick Henry was held to 32 yards on seven carries. To put the icing on the cake, the four interceptions by four different Steelers (Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh, Robert Golden and Sean Davis) were the most in a single game for any Steelers team in more than 20 years.
Not to be outdone by his fellow kicker Boswell, who accounted for 16 of the Steelers’ 40 points, the sometimes-maligned Jordan Berry walloped three punts for a 50.7-yard average.
Last but not least, this was a great team victory. Practically every one of the Steelers’ starting 22 players—as well as a host of outstanding backup players—made important contributions to the win that extended Pittsburgh’s record to 8-2. While Big Ben and Antonio Brown were the offensive standouts, clutch efforts by Bell, Smith-Schuster, Bryant and Boswell were crucial to this dominant performance. On defense, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Bud Dupree were equally outstanding.
For one marvelous, chilly evening tailor-made for football, the Steelers put it all together, playing a complete game from start to finish. And for the diehard fans of Steelers Nation, whether at Heinz Field or around the globe, it was a rare treat to finally be able to put your feet up during the game’s final quarter and relax for a change. Say what you will about the thrills and excitement of games not decided until the final two minutes, but the occasional 40-point mauling works wonders for the psyche of your average, rabid Pittsburgh Steelers fan.