NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Steelers weren’t about to slip up and lose again to another NFL cellar dweller like they did previously to the Jets.
Trailing the feisty Titans by 11 points late in the third quarter, the Steelers put together consecutive scoring drives to secure a hard-fought 27-24 victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 69,143 at LP Field. The comeback helped alleviate the memories of an embarrassing loss a week ago Sunday to the lowly Jets that followed impressive wins over the Colts and Ravens.
The two scoring drives to pull out the win notwithstanding, it might have been the final drive of the game by the Steelers (7-4) that netted no points that was most impressive. Taking over at their own 19-yard line with 6:58 to play, the Steelers wouldn’t relinquish the ball again.
Instead, they rode the sturdy inside running on the final drive like they had all night of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who finished with a career-high 204 yards on 33 carries. During the final possession to seal the game, Bell carried the ball seven straight times for 43 yards to help run valuable time off the clock.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 21-of-32 passes for 207 yards with one touchdown, one interception and an 81.1 rating. On the team’s game-winning drive, he completed 4-of-5 passes, including a 12-yarder for the winning score to wide receiver Antonio Brown, who had nine catches for 91 yards.
"We’ve been very up front that we want to be a balanced group," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We want to be a group that’s capable of stepping in a stadium and throwing with anybody in the NFL. We want to be a group that’s capable of stepping into a stadium and running with anybody in the NFL. I think we are rounding into form in that regard."
Making just his third start for the Titans (2-8) since replacing veteran Jake Locker, rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage that was returned for a touchdown by Steelers cornerback William Gay. Unfazed by the early gaffe, Mettenberger drove the Titans on two scoring drives and finished the night with 15-of-24 completions for 263 yards, two touchdowns and a 110.2 rating.
"I was impressed with Zach coming back (after) that first pick for a touchdown to start the game," said Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose teams plays Sunday at the Eagles. After a bye week, the Steelers host the Saints on Nov. 30.
"I thought (Mettenberger) responded well there and led two scoring drives, made some good throws in the red zone," Whisenhunt added. "But you know, it’s tough when you go against a good football team like that, that has a lot of weapons offensively and can play really good defense against you in the first half."
The Titans built on a 17-13 halftime lead by taking their second possession of the second half 77 yards on 11 plays for a 24-13 bulge. The big play was a 36-yard reception by wide receiver Kendall Wright, but reserve tight end Chase Coffman was the workhorse of the drive. After a catch of 18 yards to start the drive, he kept it alive with a third-down conversion on a 10-yard catch. He did the honors by capping the drive with a 4-yard high-leaping touchdown reception.
Titans veteran tight end Delanie Walker, the team’s receptions leader in catches, yardage and touchdowns, did not play. He suffered a concussion in the loss a week ago Sunday to the Ravens and was not cleared for action.
"Stuff happens in this league," Mettenberger said of the early pick six by Gay. "You see that week in and week out, even with the great quarterbacks. But the ability to respond to negative plays really kind of shows a guy’s character. I think I responded well, made plays to put us in the game. You just have to make one or two more to get the win."
Finding themselves down by 11 points late in the third quarter, the Steelers put together two methodical drives over the close of the third quarter and start of the fourth to regain the lead at 27-24 with 9:01 remaining
They pulled within 24-20 on an 8-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Roethlisberger kept the drive alive by running for a first down on a third-down, followed by a 27-yard scamper by Bell, who capped the drive with a 5-yard scoring burst up the middle. After holding the Titans to three downs and out on their next possession, the Steelers took little time to regain the lead, going 65 yards on eight plays.
Mettenberger capped the first half by connecting on an 80-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Nate Washington. Gay, who had returned the Mettenberger interception for the early score, bit on a play fake by Mettenberger and let Washington get behind him and run untouched to the end zone.
On Gay’s interception, Mettenberger was trying to connect with wide receiver Justin Hunter, but the pass was thrown behind him and directly to Gay, whose return gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead less than 5 minutes into the first quarter. The Steelers had an early 3-0 lead by driving the opening possession to the Titans’ 31-yard line before getting a 49-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham.
Unfazed by the interception thrown on his first pass, Mettenberger drove the Titans 67 yards on a five-play scoring drive on their second possession to pull within 10-7 midway through the first quarter. After completions of 14 and 23 yards Wright keyed the drive, rookie running back Bishop Sankey capped it with a 9-yard scoring run around the right side.
"Yes, (it was) a tough outcome for us tonight," Whisenhunt said. "I thought our team fought hard. We made a couple mistakes early, but we were able to bounce back from that and had a couple of missed opportunities in the second half that really hurt us."