Steelers 13 Titans 10 (OT)
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently are going to stay with this Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes combination until somebody beats them.
Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:32 gone in overtime and the Super Bowl champion Steelers again relied on Roethlisberger’s ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in the NFL season opener Thursday night.
The Steelers, their running game stuffed by Tennessee’s defence, didn’t get going until Roethlisberger began repeatedly finding Holmes and Hines Ward open downfield. Roethlisberger went 33-of-43 for 363 yards, with Holmes — the Super Bowl star — making nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown and Ward, despite a potentially costly fumble, making eight for 103.
Holmes’ statistics were exactly the same as the Super Bowl, when he caught the winning six-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger in the final minute to beat Arizona 27-23.
Thursday’s victory might be costly, however — star safety Troy Polamalu, the best player on the field during the first half, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a blocked field goal. Coach Mike Tomlin said the injury usually sidelines a player three to six weeks.
“It is speculation at this point (how long he will be out),” Tomlin said.
The Titans lost the coin toss to start the overtime and, as so often happens, never saw the ball again. Roethlisberger, who led a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, hit Ward for 11 yards, Holmes for 11 and rookie Mike Wallace for 22. Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on first down to win it.
“It’s nice to know we can win close games,” Reed said. “This is my eighth year here and I’ve been in a lot of close games, and we usually are on the up side of those.”
While the Steelers ended up winning on two Reed field goals, the Titans may have lost because Rod Bironas twice couldn’t convert from inside the 40.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t beat the Tennessee Titans, the Tennessee Titans beat the Tennessee Titans,” said wide receiver Nate Washington, the former Steelers player.
Pittsburgh looked ready to win it late in regulation when Roethlisberger, so adept at running the two-minute offence, took advantage of good field position created by a shanked Craig Hentrich punt to find Ward on a 30-yard completion to the Titans four-yard line. But as Ward was trying to muscle his way closer to the goal line, Michael Griffin stripped the ball and Stephen Tulloch recovered with less than a minute remaining.
Even with no running game to support him — the Steelers were outrushed 86-36 as Willie Parker was held to 19 yards on 13 carries — Roethlisberger had the third-most productive passing game of his career.
Tennessee’s Kerry Collins, usually the caretaker of a run-first offence, was 22-of-35 for 244 yards after having only four games of 200 yards or more last season.
Stefan Logan, formerly of the CFL’s B.C. Lions, had four kickoff returns averaging 29 yards for the Steelers, as well as a punt return for 11 yards.
The Titans never led until Bironas connected from 45 yards with 11:03 remaining, making it 10-7, after Collins kept the drive moving with 15-yard completions to rookie Kenny Britt and Justin Gage.
“We had chances and opportunities but missed a field goal, had a field goal blocked,” coach Jeff Fisher said.
“I believe we’ve got a good football team in that locker room and we’re going to bounce back.”