By Teresa Varley
There wouldn't be any fourth quarter heroics this week as the Steelers fell to the Titans, 31-14, losing out on a chance for the number one seed in the AFC.
Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 26 of 40 pass attempts for 331 yards, was sacked five times, including three and a half by rookie Jason Jones. Roethlisberger also lost two fumbles and was intercepted twice and the Titans took advantage, scoring 21 points off of turnovers.
The ground game never got going for the Steelers, with Willie Parker carrying the ball 18 times for 29 yards and Mewelde Moore having three carries for 28 yards.
"The story of the game for us is missed opportunities," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "When you don't take care of the football versus good people in a hostile environment it bites you. They made significant plays in third down situations, in fourth down situations. It was a good game by them and below the line by us. When that happens the score looks the way it looks."
The Steelers won the toss, but deferred to the second half, allowing the defense to deliver an early message to the Titans. Kerry Collins completed his first pass of the game to Justin Gage for six yards, but after that it was tough going. Chris Johnson was met head-on by Troy Polamalu and Larry Foote for no gain and on third down Bryant McFadden delivered a bone-jarring hit on Brandon Jones to break-up the pass and force a punt.
Parker got the offense started with a five-yard run and Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for six-yards for the first down. The drive would stall there as a short pass to Parker was incomplete, Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of two yards and then he overthrew Holmes.
Anthony Madison was able to make a key play on special teams, saving Mitch Berger's punt just before it went into the end zone and allowing Andre Frazier to down it at the three-yard line. That's all the defense needed as they swarmed on the Titans and forced them to go three-and-out.
Big plays on offense, including a 26-yard reception by Hines Ward and 13-yard scamper by Parker, gave the Steelers a golden opportunity at the Titans three-yard line. But they couldn't take advantage of the great field position. Parker lost yardage on the next two plays and then on third down Roethlisberger was scrambling for the end zone, but was hit by Jason Jones. Roethlisberger, who was shaken-up on the hit, fumbled and William Hayes recovered for the Titans.
The Titans were able to get some momentum going on offense on their ensuing drive as LenDale White had a four-yard carry and Justin McCareins pulled in an eight-yard reception. Collins aired it out for Gage who was able to pull in a 26-yard reception, brought down by a shoe-string tackle by Ike Taylor. That is all the Titans would get though, as the defense shut the door and forced them to give up the ball again.
The Steelers weren't able to go anywhere on the next drive and gave the Titans great field position when Chris Carr returned the punt to the Steelers 41-yard line. Collins hit McCareins for 13 yards, but Lawrence Timmons leveled Johnson for a five-yard loss. On third-down Johnson caught a short pass, but was knocked for a one-yard loss by James Farrior. The Titans were forced to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Rob Bironas for a 3-0 lead.
The one thing the Steelers needed to stay away from was another turnover, but an opportunistic Titans defense forced one. Roethlisberger was sacked by Hayes, forcing a fumble which the Titans recovered. This time, the Titans were able to capitalize. Collins went deep to Gage, hitting him in stride for a 34-yard touchdown, to extend the Titans lead to 10-0.
Like they have been doing all season, the offense responded to the adversity. Moore and Miller came through with third down receptions and Roethlisberger scrambled for another first down to keep the chains moving. Roethlisberger went deep and fired a strike to Holmes for a 31-yard touchdown, to put the Steelers right back in the game at 10-7.
A defensive stop gave the Steelers the ball back at their 14-yard line with just 1:43 remaining in the half. Moore went for 17 yards and Miller pulled in an 11-yard reception to the 42-yard line. Nate Washington made his first catch of the afternoon with a 20-yard reception and Moore fought for a first down on a 12-yard reception. The Steelers had a chance to tie the game just at the end of the half, but Jeff Reed's 33-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
The Steelers and Titans exchanged possessions to start the half and then Roethlisberger and company went to work. Roethlisberger hit Holmes for 20 yards to the Titans 42-yard line. Ward grabbed a 21-yard reception for a first down at the Titans 21-yard line. Roethlisberger went right back to Ward on the next play, connecting for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Steelers their first lead of the game at 14-10.
The Titans came marching right back. Collins completed back-to-back passes to Bo Scaife and then went deep to Gage for 21 yards. Harrison set the Steelers season sack record when he got Collins for a 10-yard loss, his 16th of the season. On third-and-20 Collins hit McCareins along the sidelines for 19 yards. They went for it on fourth-and-one, and Johnson was able to get away from Taylor, who slipped trying to make the tackle, and he took it 21-yards for a touchdown to put the Titans back on top, 17-14.
Another turnover brought the Steelers ensuing drive to a stop. Roethlisberger was trying to make something happen and went to Washington, but Michael Griffin stepped in front of the pass for the interception and returned it 32 yards to the Steelers 37-yard line.
White took it up the middle for seven yards, but was stopped for no gain on the next play. Foote broke up a pass intended for Scaife, but the Titans went for it on fourth-and-three and Collins found Gage again, this time for 17 yards to the 13-yard line. Collins went back to Scaife for a nine-yard completion, but was short of the first down. Bironas came on for the field goal attempt, but the Steelers were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Titans new life. They took advantage with White going one-yard for a touchdown, extending the lead to 24-14.
Things didn't click for the offense on their next drive. After Ward pulled in an 18-yard reception, Parker was stopped in the backfield for a five-yard loss. On the next play, Roethlisberger was sacked for a nine-yard loss and fumbled, but fortunately Chris Kemoeatu was able to cover it for the recovery, although the Steelers had to punt. The Steelers next drive looked like a carbon copy, ending in the same manner when Roethlisberger was sacked and fumbled and Kemoeatu and Justin Hartwig jumped on the ball to avoid the turnover.
The Steelers tried to fight back near the end of the game, but Griffin intercepted Roethlisberger at the Titans 17-yard line and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown, giving them a 31-14 win.