Nashville, TN (Sports Network) – The Steelers defense stepped up to force seven turnovers in the wake of an injury to quarterback Dennis Dixon and the special teams accounted for all 19 points, as Pittsburgh was able to grind out a 19-11 win over Tennessee at LP Field.
Jeff Reed kicked four field goals and rookie Antonio Brown returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, while the defense hounded the Titans’ two biggest offensive threats in Chris Johnson and Vince Young. Young accounted for three of the turnovers on two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Johnson, the NFL’s 2009 Offensive Player of the Year, was bottled up and held to 34 yards on 16 rushes and also fumbled. He was vying for a 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. The Steelers vaunted defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 36 straight games.
“The whole focus coming in was to try and keep Chris Johnson contained. We felt if we could do that and keep Vince from scatting around, we would have a good chance and that’s what we did,” Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison said.
Rashard Mendenhall helped carry the load late for the victors, wearing down the Titans defense to the tune of 69 yards on 23 carries for Pittsburgh (2-0), which also won ugly in a season-opening 15-9 triumph over Atlanta in overtime.
Charlie Batch took the field three minutes into the second quarter after Dixon planted wrong on a run and it “didn’t feel right.”
Dixon was later carted off to the locker room, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said further tests on the knee will be needed to determine his health going forward.
Batch was the only other quarterback dressed for Sunday’s game following the surprise release of Byron Leftwich on Saturday. The team is already without Ben Roethlisberger, who remains suspended for two more games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
“I don’t know who is going to play quarterback next week. I know it won’t be me,” deadpanned Tomlin. “We are pleased to be 2-0 but far from astounded by it. We are a bit annoyed to be honest, with the premature reporting of our death.”
It was a wildly different outcome for the Titans (1-1) than that of their successful 38-13 rout of Oakland to start the season. Young was benched for the fourth quarter and replaced by the ageless Kerry Collins, who was intercepted on the first series and lost a fumble on his third possession.
The two Tennessee QBs combined to produce just over 116 yards of offense and six first downs before the final two drives of the game made things interesting.
After Reed kicked his fourth and final field goal for a 19-3 game with five minutes left to play, Collins led Tennessee on a 17-play, 85-yard drive, ending on Nate Washington’s two-yard TD grab along the right sideline. A two- point conversion toss to Kenny Britt was successful, bringing the score to 19-11 with less than a minute remaining.
The Steelers were faced with a sense of renewed urgency on defense after Tennessee recovered an onsides kick. Two quick passes netted 38 yards and the Pittsburgh 31-yard line with 20 seconds left. But an incompletion on second down was followed by two false starts and a conversion try on 3rd-and-20 was foiled as time expired.
It was an undisciplined performance for the Titans, who were penalized 11 times for 72 yards.
“This game was definitely like a nightmare, like whiplash. You don’t know what happened to you,” said Titans fullback Ahmad Hall.
Both offenses found the going tough in the first half. Brown lit up the scoreboard on the opening play of the game, but from there it was two field goals from Reed and one from Rob Bironas in the first 30 minutes.
The Titans were poised for points on their first two turns with the ball, but settled for Bironas’ short boot after getting to the Steeler three-yard line and Young was intercepted on a 1st-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 16.
Young’s second interception stopped another drive in enemy territory early in the second quarter. The Titans got the ball back a short time later and looked to break through for a big play on Johnson’s 85-yard touchdown run. But the play was nullified by an offensive holding call.
Johnson’s fumble deep in Titans territory set up Reed for a 34-yard field goal just before halftime for a 13-3 game.
A scoreless third quarter saw the struggles of Young and Batch magnified, and a short Steeler possession had Reed connect on a 25-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 16-3.
Collins came on for Tennessee and struggled as well, turning it over twice in a span of five plays early on before bouncing back at the end of the game.
Reed helped seal the win with a 27-yard kick as a result of Collins’ fumble at the Tennessee 20.
Dixon was 4-of-6 for 18 yards with 28 yards rushing on three attempts before exiting…Batch wound up 5-for-11 for 25 yards. Both Steeler QBs fumbled twice…Johnson caught five passes for 19 yards in the loss…Both teams were atrocious on third down, with Pittsburgh converting 2-of-15 and Tennessee 4-of-14…Young finished 7-of-10 for 66 yards, while Collins was 17-of-25 with 149 yards passing…The Titans travel to take on the Giants next Sunday and Pittsburgh plays in Tampa versus the Bucs.