It’s time again to climb into the BTSC Delorean to revisit a Steelers’ game from yesteryear. I’m gathering that less plutonium will be necessary this time around as we won’t be stretching the space-time continuum as far back as usual. With the Steelers playing a preseason game against Tennessee this weekend, let’s venture back to a time when chocolate makers were warning of an upcoming shortage, President Obama was dealing with criticism of his Obamacare, Dumb and Dumber 2 (for some odd reason) was No. 1 at the box office, and music listeners weren’t turning off Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Meanwhile, the Steelers were 6-4 and coming off of a debilitating loss to Michael Vick and the Jets. But in the two previous weeks, Ben had twelve TD passes vs zero interceptions. Fighting for a playoff berth, the trip to take on the 2-8 Titans was still crucial for a team that had suffered some letdowns against lesser teams.
On the Steelers’ initial drive, Le’Veon Bell did all of the heavy lifting. The second-year back had 35 yards on six carries. But the series stalled on the 31, leading to a Shaun Suisham kick from 48 yards. After the touchback, a play by two future Steelers resulted in more Pittsburgh points. Rookie Zach Mettenberger and second-year man Justin Hunter (selected before Bell the year before) tried to team up for a completion on first down. But William Gay (tied all-time for Pittsburgh pick-sixes) thieved the eight-yard attempt and sauntered into the enemy end zone for the TD. Just like that, it was 10-0 in favor of the Steelers.
Mettenberger and the Titans would regroup right away. In only five plays, WR Kendall Wright, RB Bishop Sankey and Brice McCain’s face-mask penalty combined for all of the yards prior to Sankey’s TD from nine-yards away. The Steelers’ lead was cut to three at 10-7.
The scoring continued on the next two drives. Behind the running of Bell and passes from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown...the Steelers reached the Titans’ 5-yard line before settling for a short Suisham field goal of 23 yards. Whisenhunt’s Titans countered with Shon Greene, Dexter McCluster and Wright to get them into position to take the lead, but Will Allen and Mike Mitchell stopped Sankey on the two. Tennessee settled for a Ryan Succop 20-yard boot. With 11:13 left in the second quarter and no punts, the score was 13-10 in Pittsburgh’s favor.
After both teams went 3-and-out, Roethlisberger took his team on a long drive that spanned nearly seven minutes. From the Titans’ 19-yard line, Ben looked for AB across the middle. But instead of a TD to make the score 20-10 at the half, Jason McCourty picked off the pass for a touchback. On the very next play, with :35 left in the half, Mettenberger found former Steeler Nate Washington for 80 yards and a score. Gay was burned badly on the play. Tennessee led at halftime, 17-13.
To start the third quarter, both teams punted the ball away. On the second drive of the half, the Music City club scored again after an 11-play drive concluding with a Mettenberger scoring strike to TE Chase Coffman. With the tally 24-13, Mike Tomlin’s club looked to be in trouble. But they answered the Titans when they got the ball back. Bell ran for 52 yards on a drive that included a 5-yard TD romp that Whisenhunt challenged and lost. Juice’s score made it 24-20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The Steelers defense rose up behind Vince Williams, James Harrison, Will Allen and Cam Heyward to force a 3-and-out. The Killer B’s then took over as Bell went wild on the ground and also with help from passes by Big Ben. With 9:01 left in the contest, No. 7 found AB for a twelve-yard score and a 27-24 lead.
Even though the clock hadn’t quite surpassed 12 o’clock, it struck midnight and the Titans’ glass slipper was smashed into tiny pieces when Mike Mitchell and Jason Worilds combined for a tackle of Darian Hagan on third down. Tennessee could only amass 16 yards in 2:02 and was forced to punt again. The Steelers took over with 6:58 left in the Nashville night.
Behind 50 yards by Bell on the drive, Pittsburgh ran out the clock and escaped with the win. Bell ended the night with 204 yards on the ground, while Brown (nine catches for 91 yards) and Heath Miller (five catches for 71 yards) led the receiving corps. But the following day, another key stat line dominated the headlines.
LeGarrette Blount’s zero yards on zero attempts enraged the Steelers’ running back, so much that he stormed off of the field in protest before the game concluded. No. 27 had celebrated with Bell earlier on a mock selfie, but when his team was draining the clock...he was angry about being called to rush only once.
As for me, I was puzzled by Blount’s exclusion from the game plan, but I agreed with the team for releasing him the next day for insubordination, mostly because his teammates were fed up with his increasingly negative presence in the locker room. Some had been calling for his dismissal weeks before as well. Looking back, though, I’ve slightly changed my tune regarding Blount. While I still disagree with the negative attitude and his insubordination, I feel like my team mismanaged the carries load for most of that season and others. Blount’s departure helped win a Super Bowl for New England and crippled the Steelers when Bell went down.
The win did help propel the Steelers into the playoffs and I felt jubilation. But the Blount news also made me feel that the night in Nashville might be the downfall of that season as well.