By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping for a better, and less unusual second half as they receive the kickoff to open the third quarter. The Steelers scored their only points in the first half on the opening kickoff with a bizarre safety and trail 7-2, with the Tennessee Titans punching it into the end zone with 44 seconds remaining in the half.
LaRod Stephens-Howling took the kickoff deep in the end zone for a touchback. Ben Roethlisberger took the field—sans Maurkice Pouncey—looking to redeem himself after an interception on a throw that should never have been attempted.
After Isaac Redman’s early fumbles and general ineffectiveness, Stephens-Howling was the back on the first series. On third and two, the pass went incomplete to the back after he dropped what should have been a first down.
Curtis Brown was down the field on the punt to force a fair catch after a 41-yard punt. On defense, Cortez Allen tested his injured ankle and left the field. William Gay replaced him in the base defense, and interestingly safety Shamarko Thomas was playing the nickel. That is a lot of confidence in the rookie.
The Titans were quickly put into a third and long situation, and the pass fell incomplete. A 49-yard punt had to be fair caught, however, and a penalty on Thomas put the Steelers in poor field position. A three and out was cemented by the Titans’ fourth sack of the game after Stephens-Howling was beaten in pass protection.
LaMarr Woodley was subbed with Jason Worilds on the next drive, with Jarvis Jones at right outside linebacker. On first down, a deep pass from Jake Locker fell incomplete. A couple of nice cuts by Chris Johnon picked up eight yards, but a holding call on receiver Kenny Britt nullified the gain to set up second and 19. Johnson gained four yards on the play, leading to third and 15. Delanie Walker secured the pass down the field, fumbled, and then recovered the fumble.
Troy Polamalu sacked Locker right off the snap on the ensuing play. On third and 13, Ike Taylor was beaten for the first down to breach the red zone again. Ryan Clark was injured, forcing Robert Golden into the game. Thomas stopped a third down pass to force a field goal try, which was good to extend the Titans’ lead to 10-2.
Stephens-Howling took a pass for seven yards on first down and then collapsed as he tried to limp off the field. For the time being, Felix Jones replaced him in the lineup. Emmanuel Sanders was unable to control a second down pass that would have converted a first down. On third down, a low snap led to a rushed pass, which was low and away for Jerricho Cotchery.
On second down, Steve McLendon eventually forced Locker to vacate the pocket and scrambled for a short gain to make third down manageable. The third down blitz could not get home and Locker was able to find an open receiver for the conversion. Jackie Battle was able to abuse the Steelers’ defense for some tough yards to cross midfield by the conclusion of the third quarter.
McLendon and Ziggy Hood were able to pressure Locker on first down. Battle was called for a false start on second down. The second down pass was off the mark for an incompletion, and on third down, the receiver had a chance to make an awkward catch, but was unable to do so.
Isaac Redman was finally placed back into the game, and carried for seven yards on his first of the half. Roethlisberger found Sanders with some room to run on second down as the Steelers went no huddle. On the next play, Roethlisberger went deep for Cotchery, but it was too deep. On second down, Redman picked up some extra yards for five. The third down pass for Antonio Brown was broken up by Jason McCourty to force the punt.
After the punt, Chris Johnson was bottled up for a short loss on first down. Gay was beaten on second down just shy of the first down to set up third and one. On third and short, the Titans front opened up just enough room to convert an easy first. Locker was drilled on the next play, but still hit his target for the first down. That target, Nate Washington, stayed down on all fours before eventually jogging off the field.
Ryan Clark stayed down again after coming off for a play in the first half. On the next play, a missed tackle resulted in a first down in Steelers territory. Ryan Clark came back in, and was flagged for pass interference after being targeted down the field. Kion Wilson came into the game, replacing Larry Foote, who left the game with a biceps injury. An unnecessary roughness penalty pushed the Titans back to the 35.
On third and 24, the Titans got down to the 24-yard line to make the field goal attempt somewhat easier. The field goal was good, extending the Titans’ lead to 13-2, making it a tw-possession game with just over six minutes remaining.
Markus Wheaton was back to return the ensuing kickoff, and he brought it out…to just the seven-yard line. Felix Jones was the back for the drive. Sanders gained about seven yards on a first-down screen. Sanders was targeted deep on the next play, but could not bring it in, and Roethlisberger took a big hit on the play. Sack number five came on third down to set up fourth and 12, and the Steelers elected to punt, which was returned to the 17. Another field goal put the Steelers down a full two touchdowns with less than four minutes remaining.
Wheaton returned the next kickoff out to the 25-yard line. Antonio Brown caught a pass 22 yards down the field to start it off, and the Titans were flagged for a facemask, bringing the Steelers past midfield. Cotchery converted another first down, and Roethlisberger surpassed 30,000 yards on the completion. Sanders was the next to convert, as the Steelers breached the red zone. A short pass to Sanders kept the clock running without much to show for the play, however. On second down, Roethlisberger found Redman for the first down.
The next pass was broken up as the two-minute warning hit, leaving the Steelers with no timeouts, meaning they would have to recover an onside kick after scoring a touchdown in order to have a chance at tying the game. Redman’s target was broken up by the defense, but he likely would not have scored on the play.
On third and goal, Redman caught the pass, but was dropped for a loss. The fourth down pass was caught by Jerricho Cotchery—at last—for the Steelers’ first offensive points of the season with 1:23 left to play. Shaun Suisham’s extra point made it a 7-point game.
The Steelers were forced to attempt to secure an onside kick with no timeouts remaining. The ball popped high into the air, giving the Steelers a chance at it. Chris Carter seemed to have the best chance, but the Titans got to it first. A few kneeldowns put an end to the proceedings with the score of 16-9, giving Ben Roethlisberger his first loss in a home opener in his career. With the rest of the AFC North losing, however, it could have been worse.