Steelers explode in second half for victory over Titans
By Will Graves
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns, three to Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled away from the Tennessee Titans in a 40-17 victory on Thursday night.
Running the no-huddle offense extensively for the first time all season, Roethlisberger completed 30 of 45 passes to help the Steelers (8-2) win their fifth straight.
Brown caught 10 passes for 144 yards and the three scores, including an acrobatic grab in the back of the end zone in which he pinned the ball to his helmet before bringing it in to put Pittsburgh up 20 in the fourth quarter.
Marcus Mariota ran for a touchdown and threw for another but also was picked off four times as the Titans (6-4) saw their four-game winning streak come to a crashing halt. Mariota finished 22 of 33 for 306 yards but was under pressure much of the night, absorbing five sacks and rarely finding room to move outside the pocket.
Still, Tennessee appeared to be in it when Mariota hit Rishard Matthews with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half to get to 16-14 but Pittsburgh’s long-sputtering offense finally came to life.
Roethlisberger dropped some very not subtle hints that he wanted the freedom provided by the no-huddle after the Steelers used it to pick the Colts apart during the winning drive last Sunday in Indianapolis.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley appeared to be listening.
Pittsburgh opened in the no huddle and needed just six plays to take the lead as Roethlisberger took advantage of a free play and hit Brown with a 41-yard rainbow. Mike Hilton then returned Mariota’s interception to set up the first of Chris Boswell’s four field goals and the Steelers appeared on the verge of another prime-time blowout at home.
The blowout did eventually arrive, just not quickly.
The offense ground to a halt for the rest of the half, held in check by former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. The Hall of Famer spent 12 years building a defense that helped Pittsburgh to a pair of Super Bowl victories before being ushered out in favor of protege Keith Butler in January, 2015. The 80-year-old is in the middle of his latest project with the steadily improving Titans.
Yet the gap between Tennessee and Pittsburgh remains significant. The proof came after Mathews’ long catch-and-run appeared to give the Titans momentum.
It didn’t last.
The Steelers, with Roethlisberger deftly at the controls, finally showcased the firepower they’ve only flirted with this season. The 35-year-old who has struggled with his accuracy at times was near perfect over the final 30 minutes. He finished 20 of 23 for 185 yards in the second half as Pittsburgh’s $92-million offense sprang to life but scoring on four straight possessions.
Roethlisberger found a leaping Brown for a 5-yard score to put Pittsburgh up 23-14, executed a perfect play-action fake that the goal line before flipping it to a wide-open Jesse James for a 1-yard touchdown and put the Titans away with a lob to the back corner of the end zone that Brown somehow hauled in from 10 yards out that made it 37-17.
Pittsburgh rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster knelt down and bowed to Brown during the giddy celebration. Hard to blame the 20-year-old. For the first time all season, the Steelers put it all together and looked every bit like a team with a legitimate threat to play deep into January and beyond.
Titans: Visit Indianapolis on Nov. 26. Tennessee beat the Colts 36-22 on Oct. 16.
Steelers: Welcome the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 26, the second of four straight prime-time games for Pittsburgh.