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'We don't live in our fears'

They regretted the result but stood firm behind the attempt.

That's why head coach Mike Tomlin wasn't about to second-guess an interception thrown by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-12 from the Titans' 19-yard line with 2:40 left in regulation and the Steelers up by three.

A more conservative approach might have resulted in a field goal and a six-point lead, which would have forced Tennessee to score a touchdown to beat the Steelers.

But a touchdown for the Steelers there would have all but ended it.

"It's NFL football," Tomlin offered after the Steelers hung on for a 27-24 victory on Sunday afternoon in Nashville. "We play to win. We don't live in our fears. Is it a combat play? Is it tight? Yes, but we have a quarterback that's been doing that for 17 years. Sometimes you've just got to acknowledge that they made the play in the moment and we desire to and that's why we're not going to live in our fears.

"We're going to go in those instances to secure victory."

Roethlisberger's pass made it into wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster's hands in the end zone, but linebacker Jayon Brown knocked it from Smith-Schuster's grasp before he could come down with both feet in the end zone and Tennessee safety Amani Hooker came up with the carom.

That positioned the Titans to drive for a tying field goal or a game-winning touchdown.

Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski's attempt at the former from 45 yards away sailed wide right with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers survived.

"I'll take JuJu down the middle on a linebacker," Roethlisberger insisted. "I've just got to get it about six inches higher on his back shoulder. And you don't expect the ball to get tipped up in the air and intercepted. You hope it falls incomplete, but they intercepted it and that's on me."

Smith-Schuster, too, welcomed the opportunity.

"Yeah, I was glad Ben threw it," he said. "Obviously, Ben trusted me to throw the ball there and that's a play I have to make for myself, just go over and grab it over his shoulder and his back.

"I had the ball in my hands, they broke it up and had a good play."

NIGHT TRAIN SPILLANE: Robert Spillane's first start at inside linebacker in place of Devin Bush included meeting Titans running back Derrick Henry head on in the hole on third-and-goal from the Steelers' 1 early in the fourth quarter.

Spillane and outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who offered help from the left side of the defensive formation, combined to drop Henry for no gain.

"They're on the 1-yard line," Spillane explained. "They got a 250-pound running back. There's no going slow into the hole. So I took all my force with me and T.J. (Watt) was there to help as well and we were able to bring him down."

Spillane finished with three tackles on an afternoon that included Ulysees Gilbert replacing Spillane as the lone linebacker in the six-defensive backs "dime" defense.

With nickel cornerback Mike Hilton also unavailable (shoulder), cornerback Justin Layne also played in the "dime," as he had after Hilton was injured on Oct. 18 against Cleveland.

"We knew it was going to take the whole team to provide depth for Devin," Spillane maintained. "Devin's a great player, a great person, and we miss him. He wasn't with us this week and so we miss him. And we knew it was going to be 11 on defense, special teams and offense, to make up for his absence."

Spillane said he was comfortable holding up his end of that equation, especially with the help provided by Watt and fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree crashing off the edges against the run.

"Not just Bud and T.J., but don't forget (defensive tackle) Cam (Heyward), (defensive tackle) Tyson (Alualu), and (defensive end) Stephon Tuitt because those guys don't get blocked often and if they do it's for a very short time," Spillane noted. "So playing behind them and then having (free safety) Minkah (Fitzpatrick) and (strong safety) Terrell (Edmunds) behind me, you feel so safe on the field because you know you have playmakers all over the field.

"All I have to do is do my job and play hard."

FIRST THINGS FIRST: The Steelers hadn't scored an opening-possession touchdown since Dec. 16, 2018 against New England.

They'd had enough of that streak to the degree they were willing to break character to snap it, and did so when they won the coin toss and elected to receive.

"I came into this game and told Coach Tomlin, 'We're going to take the ball. We're not going to defer,'" Roethlisberger said. "We knew that they would probably defer (if the Titans won the toss). So we knew we were going to have the ball first and I told the guys last night, 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to have the ball. Let's go down the field.'

"And we went down the field and put together a pretty complete drive there on that first drive."

The long-awaited touchdown drive coveted 75 yards in 16 plays in 9:18.

It was worth the wait.

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