PITTSBURGH- The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Nashville on Sunday to square off against the AFC South leading Tennessee Titans. Both teams came into this contest with matching records of 5-0. The Steelers’ offense set the tone on the first drive of the game as they marched down the field with relative ease against a Titans’ defense that is dead last in the NFL in stopping third conversions. Diontae Johnson hauled in an 11-yard strike by Ben Roethlisberger to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead with just over 5 minutes left in the opening quarter.
The Pittsburgh defense also came out firing on all cylinders, forcing the Titans to a three and out on their first possession while holding running back Derrick Henry to only 1 yard on a single carry in the first quarter. The Steelers looked to add to their lead as Big Ben completed his first 7 passes, connecting with JuJu Smith-Schuster on a key 3rd and 12 deep in Titans’ territory that set up a 1- yard TD run by backup running back Benny Snell.
The Titans would answer back however when Adam Humphries came down with a deflected pass on 3rd and 9 and Tennessee was in business at the Pittsburgh 21-yard line. After the Steelers’ defense nearly forced a fumble, Corey Davis corralled a Ryan Tannehill pass to make the score 14-7. Chris Boswell drilled a 38-yard field goal to put the Steelers up by 10. The steel curtain defense once again imposed it’s will on the Titans, forcing another punt.
Ray Ray McCloud returned the kick 64 yards and set up the Steelers inside the Tennessee red zone. For the second time in the half, Big Ben found Diontae Johnson for the touchdown. After missing the better part of the last two games, Johnson proved that he was quickly becoming one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets, finishing the day with 9 catches for 80 yards and 2 TDs.
A botched punt in the closing seconds of the first half almost led to another score for Pittsburgh but a false start moved the Steelers out of field goal range. Roethlisberger was then intercepted in the end zone by Dane Cruikshank as time ran out with the score 24-7.
Another Chris Boswell field goal put the Steelers up by three scores midway through the 3rd quarter. The Titans would respond less than one minute later when AJ Brown turned a routine slant pass into a 73-yard catch and run which made the score 27-14.
The momentum was really beginning to swing the Titans’ way when linebacker Jayon Brown intercepted a tipped pass by Roethlisberger at the Steelers’ 30 yard line. Stephen Gostkowski converted the turnover to 3 points when he connected on a 51-yard FG to cut the lead to 27-17.
On Tennessee’s next possession, Derrick Henry revved up his engines. He plowed his way through the Steelers’ defense posting runs of 17 and 7 yards while taking the ball down to the Pittsburgh goal line. It appeared that the Titans would come away empty handed when Robert Spillane stopped the surging Henry at the 2 yard line and forced a Tannehill incompletion on 4th down. However, a defensive holding penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick gave Tennessee a new set of downs and Henry would not be denied a second time.
After watching their 20-point lead evaporate in the 4th quarter, the Steelers’ offense went back to the formula they had success with early in the game. Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster on three consecutive passes and hit Johnson a couple of times as they burned the clock and drove the ball inside the Titans’ 20-yard line. With 2:25 to go in the game, Big Ben was picked off in the end zone for his third interception of the game.
The Titans went to work from their own 20 yard line, needing at least a field goal for the tie. Tannehill and company moved the ball downfield and found themselves deep in Steelers’ territory as time wound down in regulation. Gostkowski hooked a 45-yard attempt wide right with 14 seconds left on the clock and Steelers escaped the motor city with victory. The win improved their record to 6-0 and they travel to Baltimore next Sunday for an AFC North battle with Lamar Jackson and Baltimore Ravens.