Steelers take opener
Polamalu hurts knee in OT victory over Titans
PITTSBURGH - Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal with 4:32 gone in overtime and the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers again relied on Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans, 13-10, in the NFL season opener last night.
The Steelers, their running game stuffed by Tennessee’s defense, didn’t get going until Roethlisberger began repeatedly finding Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward open downfield. Roethlisberger went 33 of 43 for 363 yards, with Holmes making nine catches for 131 yards and Ward, despite a potentially costly fumble, making eight for 103.
The victory might be costly, however - Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on a blocked field goal. Coach Mike Tomlin said the injury usually sidelines a player 3 to 6 weeks.
The Titans lost the coin toss to start overtime and, as so often happens, never saw the ball. Roethlisberger, who also led a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, hit Ward for 11, Holmes for 11, and rookie Mike Wallace for 22. Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on first down to win it.
Pittsburgh looked ready to win it late in regulation when Roethlisberger, so adept at running the two-minute offense, took advantage of good field position created by a shanked Craig Hentrich punt to find Ward on a 30-yard completion to the Titans’ 4. But as Ward was trying to muscle his way closer to the goal line, Michael Griffin stripped the ball and Stephen Tulloch recovered with less than a minute remaining.
Even with no running game to support him - the Steelers were outrushed, 86-36, as Willie Parker was held to 19 yards on 13 carries - Roethlisberger had one of the biggest games of his career. Tennessee’s Kerry Collins was 22 of 35 for 244 yards.
The Titans never led until Rob Bironas, who had missed twice from inside the 40, connected from 45 yards with 11:03 remaining.
The Steelers tied it on Jeff Reed’s 32-yarder with 2:57 to go. Reed, under pressure, barely got off a low line drive that squeezed through the uprights.
The Titans spent the first quarter tromping on a Steelers offense that managed all of 1 yard. Then, after Bironas’s 31-yarder was blocked by Aaron Smith - he missed earlier from the 27 following a bad snap - both teams suddenly found their offenses.
Roethlisberger needed only five plays to lead a 79-yard drive in which he found familiar target Ward for 29 yards ahead of his 34-yard touchdown throw to Holmes.
After finally gaining some of the momentum that Tennessee held most of the half, the Steelers gave it right back. With the Steelers defense missing both Polamalu (knee), who had earlier made a remarkable, one-handed interception, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (leg cramps), the Titans needed only three plays to tie it. Collins found Kenny Britt with no defender within 10 yards of him for a 57-yard completion to the 14. Collins then hit an equally wide open Justin Gage in the end zone with 48 seconds left in the half.