The Steelers are the defending Super Bowl champions, but for the first 3 quarters on Thursday night, they looked like anything but. The Steelers passing game came alive late in the game, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defeated the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in overtime at Heinz Field. Roethlisberger was 33 for 43 through the air for 363 yards and one touchdown. He led the Steelers on two masterful drives, the last being a 10 play, 63 yard game winning drive that culminated in a Jeff Reed 33 yard field goal to win the game.
The Steelers offense seemed out of sync throughout the first three quarters. The running game was horrible and never gained traction. The offense produced only 36 yards on 23 carries. 3 of which came on a Roethlisberger scramble. Starting running back Willie Parker gained only 19 yards on 13 carries and looked hesitant behind some poor offensive line blocking. The Titans defensive line seemed to seal off all of the running lanes all night. The pass blocking started of shaky as well, but slowly improved as the game went on. The spark seemed to come when the Steelers went to a no huddle offense. It extremely slowed down the Titans pass rush. The line officially surrendered 4 sacks, but most were the result of Roethlisberger holding on to the ball in order to make a play.
The Steelers receiving core were up to the task as the game progressed. Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes led all receivers with 9 catches for 131 yards and 1 touchdown. Veteran Hines ward chipped in 8 catches for 103 yards, but fumbled deep in Titans territory trying to gain extra yardage. ward caught a Roethlisberger deep middle pass for 30 yards and was stripped by Titans defensive back Michael Griffin while fighting for extra yardage. Tight end Heath Miller showed why he was rewarded with a new contract extension by catching 8 passes for 64 yards. Rookie Mike Wallace perhaps had the biggest catch of the night as he hauled in a 22 yard pass in overtime to set up the game winning kick. Wallace finished the night with 3 catches for 32 yards.
With the victory came bad news as starting Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu sprained his left MCL attempting to pick up a blocked field goal in the second quarter. Polamalu had been the defensive star of the game up to that point with 6 tackles and an acrobatic interception of a deep Kerry Collins pass. Polamalu is expected to miss 3-6 weeks and maybe more depending on the degree of the sprain. Linebacker Keyaron Fox had a stellar game in his first NFL start. Filling in for Lawrence Timmons, who sat out with an ankle injury, Fox had 5 tackles and recovered a fumble caused by fellow linebacker James Harrison. The defense yielded 320 total yards, but came up with key plays and stops when they had to. The defense was also aided by a blocked field goal and missed field goal by Titans kicker Rob Bironas.
Special teams wise, the Steelers had only a few flaws. The return game was aided by Stefan Logan, but he had 2 miscues on punt returns. On one punt Logan chose to fair catch inside the 10 yard line as the punt looked like it would clearly go into the endzone. The second miscue was the opposite when Logan chose to let the ball bounce instead of making a fair catch. Neither miscue hurt the Steelers and Logan returned 4 kickoffs for a 29 yard average with a long of 39 yards. The Steelers kick coverage was excellent and the blocked field goal proved to be huge.
The Steelers move to 1-0 on the 2009 season and now have a 10 game break before they travel to Chicago to take on the Bears next Sunday. The Steelers will need the rest to work on the running game and run blocking. Besides the injury to Polamalu, linebacker LaMarr Woodley left in the second quarter with leg cramps, but returned in the second half after getting rehydrated. Inactive players for Thursday night were wide receiver Shaun McDonald, linebacker Lawrence Timmons, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, tackle Tony Hills, defensive end Nick Eason, guard Kraig Urbik and cornerback Joe Burnett,. Quarterback Dennis Dixon was also inactive as the emergency quarterback.