PITTSBURGH -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the taut Titans-Steelers NFL Kickoff opener Thursday night at the Big Ketchup Bottle ...
• The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers somehow survived Thursday night at Heinz Field, but there were red flags and trouble spots in any number of directions if you cared to look for them.
Pittsburgh's once-feared running game seems to be a thing of the past. The Steelers offensive line looked sieve-like once again, allowing four sacks and a ton of pressure from Tennessee. And then there's the scary proposition of playing without Pro Bowl safety
That's the bad news that came out of Pittsburgh's gutty 13-10 overtime win (
No. 7 might have his off-field issues at the moment, but on the field he was once again solid gold when it mattered most. When things break down out there, Roethlisberger is the best in the NFL at making something out of nothing. He did it over and over again to the Titans in crunch-time situations, and it was by far the biggest reason the Steelers will enter Week 2 at 1-0, with Tennessee headed home at 0-1.
"He was Ben,'' Pittsburgh head coach
I'm still not even sure how Roethlisberger managed to finish 33-of-43 for 363 yards passing against Tennessee. The Titans seemed to be his face for most of the night, and when they weren't sacking him, they were hitting him and hurrying him. He threw a couple picks -- one of them of the Hail Mary variety at the end of the first half -- and made a couple of bad throws.
But he was extraordinary when the Steelers went to their two-minute offense on four different occasions between regulation and overtime. And if anybody still doubted it after watching the Steelers beat Arizona to win their sixth Super Bowl last February, this is now utterly and entirely Roethlisberger's team.
He's the straw that stirs this drink. Not the defense, as good as it is. Not the running game. Not
At this point, at the start of his sixth NFL season, we hold that particular truth to be among the league's most self-evident.
• When you first saw it, you thought maybe it was that first negative domino that seems to befall most every Super Bowl champion, ruining the party and spoiling the title defense almost before it has even begun. But the Steelers for the most part didn't flinch when Polamalu left the game late in the first half, and no one seemed overly concerned about the safety in the post-game.
An MCL sprain is far better than an ACL tear, and there seemed to be a hopeful air that we've seen far from the last of No. 43 this season. Veteran safety
"He's Troy, and there are certain plays he makes that no one else can make,'' said the Steelers other starting safety,
"I don't really know how bad it is, because I haven't talked to anyone yet. But if anybody can pray his way out of it, it's T.P.''
• Before Polamalu left the game -- after Titans tight end
There was Polamalu's kamikaze-like hit of Titans running back
All in all, it was one of the more remarkable bursts of safety play I've ever witnessed, and for a while there it seemed as if Polamalu was front and center in every one of the game's defining moments. If that was the last we get to see of him in 2009, what a shame it would be for football fans everywhere.
• It was truly shocking to see
"That's almost as rare as
Us too, Ben. Us too.
• One thought kept cycling through my mind watching the Titans defense in this one: Who needs
And the Titans run defense lost nothing of its dominating ways without Big Albert in the lineup. Pittsburgh's running game was anemic, finishing with just 36 yards on 23 attempts (1.6 average), with
I said it a couple times this preseason, but I believe Tennessee is going to do just fine with its rotation of players in Haynesworth's old tackle slot. If the Titans don't get where they want to go this year, it won't be because they let Haynesworth get away in free agency.
• Let's be honest: Tennessee had no business losing this game, and it can thank its special teams for helping ensure the defeat. The Titans had a Bironas 37-yard field goal attempt punched wide right in the first quarter, in part due to a poor snap that stayed low and to the right of holder
Hentrich shanked what could have been a hugely costly punt late in regulation, and punt returner
• Surely the score of the game rang a few bells for Titans fans. The 13-10 loss was the same outcome Tennessee suffered at home against Baltimore in the divisional playoffs last January. Just like in that painful denouement, the Titans fairly well dominated play for the most of the game, but squandered their scoring chances and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
* The Titans well-respected running game was no model of efficiency against the Steelers either. Tennessee finished with 86 yards on 25 carries, a 3.4 average. But at halftime, this stat spoke volumes:
Johnson finished with 57 yards on 15 carries, but Tennessee produced a mere two first downs on the ground, doubling Pittsburgh's outcome.
• Did you notice how
"Santonio, you can't say enough about the way the guy plays,'' said Roethlisberger, of his team's Super Bowl hero. "He finds holes and gets open. He makes plays. I missed him a couple times.''
• The Steelers somehow got away with their offensive line being a weak link again last season, but you have to think they're tempting fate. Roethlisberger has been sacked a league-high 139 times in the past three seasons, and with four sacks Thursday, he's off to another painful start in that department. Tackles
• Pittsburgh wasn't the only team to lose one of its stars on the night. Titans starting tight end
The Titans do have impressive rookie tight end
• Until he put Scaife out of the game and forced that fumble, Harrison, the NFL's defensive player of the year last season, was having a very quiet night. He finished with four tackles, one tackle for loss, the forced fumble and a quarterback hit. Someone will likely pay for those modest totals in some upcoming game.
• Just wondering, but Steelers rookie receiver
• The Super Bowl champion getting the honor of opening the new season at home in a Thursday night game, now in its sixth year, certainly sounds like a good idea at first blush. But with everyone always on the lookout for any potential NFL situation that might be an issue of competitive fairness -- see Cowboys, video boards -- how come no one seems to mind that the Thursday night kickoff opener has become a major advantage for the home team? I mean, is it fair to give such a leg up to the defending Super Bowl champ?
In the six years in which the champs have hosted the first game of the NFL season on Thursday night, they're now 6-0 with an average margin of victory of more than 11 points per game. Before Thursday, there had been only been one matchup that finished with a winning margin of one score or less, and that was New England's 27-24 defeat of the visiting Colts in 2004, the first year the current format. New England has also won by 10 points (over Oakland in 2005), with Pittsburgh winning by 11 in 2006, Indy winning by 31 in 2007, and the Giants winning by nine last year.