From the Press Room: Steelers vs. Titans

Excited about the win: The Steelers took it down to the wire on Thursday night, with the game being sealed on a last second interception by Kwon Alexander in the end zone with 11 seconds left to play in the game to secure the 20-16 win. 

The win improves the Steelers record to 5-3 on the season, and while Coach Mike Tomlin was happy about the outcome, he wasn't thrilled with the penalties. The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 80 yards, extending drives for the Titans on multiple occasions. 

"I'm really excited about the win," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "First and foremost, from a penalty perspective, part of being a tough team to beat is not kicking your own butt, and we kind of have been doing that some, and we have to own that. So, we will. 

"We'll review it. We'll learn from it. We'll look at it. We'll bring some officials into our practice setting in an effort to be cleaner because that was catastrophic really in a lot of instance to our effort tonight. 

"But I'm appreciative of the fight. We needed this one, and it's good to get it, get it on a short week, and being in the clubhouse on a Thursday night with the necessary victory for the week.

"Excited for them. We'll rest up, man, take advantage of the long weekend, and begin our next process."

The Steelers had their best rushing game of the season, gaining 166 yards, with Jaylen Warren tallying 88 yards and Najee Harris 69 yards. A key to that was converting on third downs, something Tomlin has preached all season. 

"We've been talking about it," said Tomlin. "You convert possession downs, you get more snaps. So, I think we converted our first third down of the game. I don't know how many of those we've had.

"When you are converting third downs, you get more snap opportunities, and that usually leads to the attrition component of play, and really that's kind of representative of the run game."

On the flip side, the defense held Titans running back Derrick Henry to 75 yards on 17 carries.

"I thought we did a good job. I just thought the penalties were catastrophic to our defensive effort. It really was," said Tomlin. "But Cam Heyward was back. Cam's presence is significant, particularly in terms of defending the run. You better put four hands on that guy or you're not going to have a day. 

"I'm appreciative of his presence. I'm appreciative of the effort of all the guys, but we've got to cut down on the penalties."

Winning the tight ones: Winning close games has become something the Steelers have done all season, but linebacker T.J. Watt doesn't know if there really is a secret to it.

The Steelers beat the Titans by four and haven't won a game by more than a touchdown all season. 

"Games are hard to win," said Watt. "I feel like a lot of teams are in these situations a lot. It's just kind of getting into the mode and try to do your job, do your best. 

"We always say defense wants to be out there when the game is on the line, and tonight was no different. Glad Kwon (Alexander) was able to deliver a big play for us."

One thing the defense talked about leading into the game was communication, with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is a hub of communication, out with a hamstring injury. It was something they talked about again at halftime, and in the second half it wasn't an issue.

"Have better communication. It's that simple," said Watt. "We just need to talk more, especially when a guy like Minkah is down, a guy that does a lot of talking. Any time a guy like Cole (Holcomb) goes down, a guy that does a lot of talking in the middle, we need to emphasize communication. 

"Especially when we are playing at home and the fans are going crazy, it makes it a little more difficult, but I feel like we did a better job in the second half for sure."  

Holcomb left the game in the first with a leg injury, carted off the field. With Holcomb out, it was Alexander, Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson who carried the load.  

"Next-man-up mentality, but those guys have been," said Watt. "They're all alphas in the middle. They all want to be out there as much as possible. 

"Obviously, we feel for Cole, and hopefully it's nothing too serious. But when those guys stepped in, we didn't skip a beat."  

After dealing with a short week heading into Thursday night's game, the Steelers have 10 days until they host the Green Bay Packers at Acrisure Stadium as they are almost to the halfway point of the season.

"We have some big-time games coming up," said Watt. "We have another home game next week, and then I think some divisional opponents are coming up. 

"Obviously not satisfied with where we are, but we just need to continue to improve and eliminate problems as quickly as possible and just get as healthy as possible. That's what is so crucial about this extra little rest that we have."

The key is consistency: The 11-play, 92-yard drive in 5:11 for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with 4:02 left in regulation on Thursday night against Tennessee didn't surprise Kenny Pickett.

It's not the first time the Steelers have conjured up such late-game heroics.

And what was required at the time wasn't anything the players don't expect themselves to deliver in such situations, Pickett contended.

"We all have faith in each other," Pickett insisted after the Steelers survived the Titans, 20-16. "We have trust and we all care for one another. There's no one in (the locker room) that has any doubt when it comes down to those fourth quarters that we're gonna be able to put a drive together and go down there and score.

"Right now we're just searching for that consistency all game. We're one or two plays here and there where I felt like we would have more points on the board, we wouldn't have been sweating it out at the end. We just gotta continue to work at that."

The difference this time was the Steelers also put together a drive for a touchdown on the game's opening possession, the first time that had happened in 2023 and just the second touchdown the offense had scored in a first quarter this season.

"It was big," Pickett said of the 10-play, 78-yard drive in 4:49 for a 7-0 lead less than five minutes after the opening kickoff. "We did what we were searching to do all year with that opening drive, going down there and score. I thought the balance was great. I thought we had great balance all night, the run game working off the pass, vice versa, getting guys some really good situations on the outside, that helped open up the run.

"It was good having that balance."

The Steelers registered season-high totals by amassing 22 first downs, converting 50 percent of their third downs (6-for-12) and rushing for 166 yards against the Titans.

The 326 total net yards gained against Tennessee trailed only the 333 the Steelers had produced on Sept. 24 at Las Vegas.

Pickett said he felt no effects from the rib injury that had knocked him out of last Sunday's 20-10 loss to Jacksonville after completing 19 of 30 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee.

The Steelers scored two offensive touchdowns for the third time in eight games in a performance Pickett assessed as a step forward.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's a couple plays here and there. Once we hit those and continue that consistency that we're searching for, I think the point total will be up where we want it to be.

"There's always positives you have to take. The outside noise of everybody who just harps on the negatives, you can't get caught up in that. There's a lot of great things that we're doing and we're close. We're close to getting to where we want to get to.

"We gotta have that singular focus and continue to show up and we will get there."

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