Friday, September 11, 2009

Steelers edge Titans 13-10 in overtime opener

The NFL season kicked off with a bang last night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the motivated Tennessee Titans visited the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers. The Titans beat the Steelers 31-14 last December but never got a chance at Pittsburgh in the playoffs, losing to the Ravens in the divisional round.

The Steelers had plenty of motivation of their own as well. The road to defending their title would start at home against a division rival, one that beat them handily in their last matchup. If Pittsburgh let Tennessee come into their house and leave with a win, that would deliver a serious blow early in the season to a team with aspirations of a repeat.

In the early stages the game was dominated by both defenses, as there wasn't a single point scored in the first 28:38 of play. Madden 10 co-cover boy Troy Polamalu was all over the field, showing his ability to play the run as well as the pass.

With Tennessee pinned at their own six on their first drive, Polamalu darted into the backfield from his safety position in under two seconds to cut down speedy running back Chris Johnson in the backfield on third-and-six. On the next series, the safety picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty cutting out Johnson's legs on the sideline, but later stripped tight end Bo Scaife on third down, forcing a field goal attempt that was missed by Rob Bironas.

Later in the first quarter, Polamalu made a spectacular one-handed interception in downfield coverage of rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt on the Steelers five-yard-line. But when the Steelers blocked a Bironas field goal with just over two minutes left in the first half, Alge Crumpler landed on Polamalu's left leg in the scrum for the ball, forcing the Pro Bowl safety out of the game.

In less than a half, Polamalu had six solo tackles, two passes defensed and an interception, but the sprained MCL he suffered on that play will keep him on the sideline for 3-6 weeks as the "Madden curse" continues. Watch out, Larry Fitzgerald!

On the next drive, Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes continued to build on his performance in the big game last season, catching a 34-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers used the no-huddle offense to open up the field. Kerry Collins and the Titans answered back just 34 seconds later as Justin Gage got open down the sideline for a 14-yard touchdown after a 57-yard pass to Britt and the game went to the half tied, 7-7.

The score would stay that way until early in the fourth quarter, when Bironas connected on his third attempt of the game from 45 yards out to give Tennessee a 10-7 advantage. The Steelers were able to make it inside the Titans 20 with a few minutes to play, but only managed a Jeff Reed 32-yard field goal to tie the game.

After the Steelers regained possession, Roethlisberger used his improvisational ability to avoid the Titans pass rush and lead his team into field goal range with less than a minute to play. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward inside the 20 with room to run, but Michael Griffin came from behind to punch the ball away from Ward when he refused to go down, a move that would have sealed the Titans' fate in regulation.

But Roethlisberger wasn't discouraged and led his team back down the field in overtime, this time hitting rookie speedster Mike Wallace inside the Tennessee 20. Pittsburgh wasted no time getting the kicker onto the field and Jeff Reed nailed the 32-yarder to give the Steelers their sixth consecutive victory in a home opener.

Despite struggling early on, Roethlisberger finished his 20th career comeback victory 33-43 for 363 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, one of which came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. He was sacked four times, including a 19-yard sack early that knocked Pittsburgh out of field-goal range, but was able to maneuver his way around the pocket and buy time for receivers to get open downfield on numerous occasions.

All of Roethlisberger's improvisation was necessary, as Tennessee stifled Willie Parker and the Steelers' running game to the tune of 36 yards on the ground, and just 19 for Parker on 13 carries. Holmes posted the same exact line from last year's Super Bowl with nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, while Ward added eight grabs for 103 yards.

For the Titans, Collins was 22-35 for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Johnson ran for 57 yards on 15 carries and Gage caught seven balls for 78 yards and a touchdown. Britt also showed flashes of his big-play ability, with four catches for 85 yards.

Tennessee will host Houston next Sunday in hopes of avoiding an 0-2 start, which would be just one less loss than they had all last season, while the Steelers travel to the Windy City to take on the Bears and new quarterback Jay Cutler.

No comments:

Post a Comment