For two-plus quarters, it looked like Pittsburgh, who quickly increased a 24-7 halftime lead to 20 points on a Chris Boswell 30-yard field goal early in the third quarter, would walk away from the game the undisputed favorite to represent the AFC in the next Super Bowl.
The Steelers thoroughly dominated on both sides of the football up to that point, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doing no wrong and Tennessee’s offense, led by running back Derrick Henry, doing nothing.
The Steelers officially re-signed punter Jordan Berry on Saturday, but unless you were paying attention to the holder on extra points and field goals, you may not have known it for most of Sunday; Pittsburgh’s first six possessions ended either in points or a Hail Mary interception by Roethlisberger on the last play of the first half after the Titans’ punter couldn’t handle a low snap and gifted the offense a bonus possession with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
As for Pittsburgh’s defense, it limited the Titans to a measly 83 yards by halftime.
I know I had a nice headline ready: “I guess the Steelers not only finally beat a good team; they made a statement.”
But like I said, there were many working narratives during the game. Not long after the Steelers took that commanding lead, Tennessee began to slowly stalk the black and gold like Michael Myers creepily pursuing Jamie Lee Curtis in the movie Halloween.
The Steelers had never lost a game when leading by 20 points or more, and doing so to the only other undefeated team in the AFC would have made for quite the nightmare on Art Rooney Avenue. It certainly looked like that could be a real possibility after the Titans’ offense came alive like Frankenstein and Pittsburgh’s went to sleep like Dracula in the morning.
I suppose that’s enough Halloween-themed analysis for one article, but suffice to say, things got pretty darn spooky for the Steelers as the bewitching hour approached. It didn’t help that Roethlisberger turned into a not-so-great pumpkin in the second half, throwing two more interceptions—including a critical one in the end zone when the Steelers were looking to ice the game with 2:35 remaining.
The Titans, who had scored 17-unanswered points to pull to within three, looked poised to pull off their second-straight victory in dramatic fashion.
With the defense looking like a collection of zombies for most of the second half, who would rise to the occasion? It sure did seem like our black and gold protagonists were in trouble once quarterback Ryan Tannehill hooked up with receiver A.J. Brown for a 21-yard gain down to the Steelers 25 with just a minute remaining.
Fortunately, the Titans continued to stalk at a very Myers-like pace and went no further on offense.
But surely the game would have an overtime final act, right? No it would not, thanks to Stephen Gostkowski and his apparent fear of field goal attempts under 50 yards—his 45-yard game-tying try sailed wide-right.
The Steelers somehow managed to survive the second half and escape haunted Nissan Stadium with their undefeated record still intact.
At the end of the day, the Steelers had quite the scare, but at least they lived to tell about it.
Now it’s on to Baltimore, where the Steelers will hope to stalk some prey of their own and make the Ravens contenders, nevermore.