After a sloppy start, Ben Roethlisberger did what he always seems to do in those situations -- complete four passes in a row for 79 yards to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Roethlisberger finished 15 of 21 for 180 yards in the first half, but he also threw two interceptions and was careless with several throws. He finished 33 of 43 for 363 yards and completed his last 12 passes in regulation.
The run game was non-existent for most of the night, but it was near-pathetic in the first half when the Steelers managed just 12 yards on 10 carries. Willie Parker had 9 yards on eight carries in the first half and his longest run was 5 yards. Rashard Mendenhall carried twice for 3 yards. Thank goodness for third-down back Mewelde Moore, who had four catches for 28 yards.
Santonio Holmes picked up right where he left off last season, catching six passes for 83 yards in the first half, including a 34-yard TD. He finished with nine catches for 131 yards. TE Heath Miller bailed out Roethlisberger several times, catching eight passes for 64 yards. Hines Ward's big night (8 for 103) was overshadowed by his fumble at the Titans' 4 with 51 seconds left.
Forget that the running game was grossly ineffective, gaining only 36 yards on 23 carries. Hey, Roethlisberger was sacked three times in the first half and it looked like a good outing for the offensive line. He actually had time to throw in the second quarter and he took advantage on the last two series, throwing for 110 yards.
The Titans had 44 yards rushing in the first half, but 32 came on a run by Chris Johnson when he reversed his field. Johnson and LenDale White combined for 85 yards on 23 carries. DE Aaron Smith's biggest play was blocking a 31-yard field goal by Rob Bironas, but he also had one of the few pressures from the defensive line.
James Farrior had the only sack in the first half as Kerry Collins again had too much time. LaMarr Woodley lost containment on Johnson's 32-yard run and also whiffed on a tackle on a swing pass to Johnson that gained 11 yards in the second quarter. James Harrison forced a fumble that was recovered by Keyaron Fox, starting for injured Lawrence Timmons, in the third quarter.
Troy Polamalu was both sensational and mistake-prone until he injured his left knee late in the first half and did not return. He made a tremendous play to drop Johnson for a 2-yard loss on the Titans' third play and later made a terrific one-handed interception. But he was also called for a late hit out of bounds and a face mask penalty, not to mention a pass interference call that was offset.
This was one of the few bright spots for the team. Stefan Logan opened with a 39-yard kick return in his NFL debut and also added a 34-yarder, punter Daniel Sepulveda was strong, Smith blocked a field goal, the coverage units were solid and Jeff Reed kicked the winning 33-yard FG. They needed all that to overcome a lack of a running game and some sloppy assignments in the secondary.
It's somewhat expected in the first game that the offense is not always going to look crisp, especially against a good defense. But there appeared to be confusion in the secondary, as well. As was the case last year in the blowout in Nashville, the Titans stood up to the Steelers and did a better job of being physical. And they stopped them on third down.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 11, 2009 5:00 AM