The Steelers' offense went from Super Bowl hangover to Super Bowl repeat all in one game last night as Ben Roethlisberger and Co. overcame early lethargy to beat the Tennessee Titans, 13-10, in overtime at Heinz Field.
There was no dramatic, winning pass as in Super Bowl XLIII, just plenty of them by Roethlisberger on a night in which he had virtually no support on the ground.
The victory in the NFL opener was delivered on the first drive of overtime, after the Steelers won the coin toss. Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal with 10:28 left.
Roethlisberger, who had a rickety first half, responded with a big second half and overtime. He completed 5 of 7 passes on the winning drive, including a 22-yarder to rookie Mike Wallace at the Titans' 15 that set up Reed's winner.
"We're not where we want to be," said receiver Hines Ward, whose lost fumble at the 4 in the final minute of regulation forced the overtime. "But it is a great way we responded in overtime."
It was the 18th regular-season comeback victory for Roethlisberger in a final period, and the eighth time Reed has won with a late kick in the regular season, ninth overall.
On a night in which the Steelers managed only 36 yards rushing, Roethlisberger, completed 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards and had two receivers with more than 100 yards. Santonio Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown in the first period; Ward had eight for 103.
The victory did not come without cost, however.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu left the game for good late in the second quarter with a MCL sprain to his left knee that coach Mike Tomlin said likely will keep him out between three and six weeks.
"We were not a perfect team by any stretch," Tomlin said. "But it was good to maybe learn some lessons with a 'W.' We were fortunate to get it because that is a good football team. ... Hopefully, we will learn some lessons so the road will be a little less bumpy next time."
Willie Parker led the Steelers with 19 yards rushing on 13 tries.
The Steelers were poised to win the game in the final minute of regulation when Roethlisberger completed a 30-yard pass to Ward at the Titans' 4 with the score tied. But as Ward, in typical fashion, fought for more yards, safety Michael Griffin stripped the ball out of his hands and linebacker Stephen Tullock recovered with 51 seconds left.
The Titans, though, contributed to their own demise. Former Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas missed one field goal and had another blocked, and Polamalu intercepted a Kerry Collins pass at the Steelers' 5 in the first half.
For much of that first half, the offense looked listless, managing12 yards rushing and Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions, was under almost constant pressure from the Titans' rush.
The Steelers and Titans traded touchdowns in the final 1:22 to wind up in a 7-7 tie at halftime.
Roethlisberger completed his 34-yard touchdown pass to Holmes with 1:22 to go. But the Titans quickly tied it on two consecutive passes. One covered 57 yards from Collins to Kenny Britt.
On the next play, Collins hit a wide-open Justin Gage for a 14-yard touchdown to tie it with 48 seconds left in the first half.
The half ended when Roethlisberger's Hail Mary pass into the end zone from his 45 was intercepted by cornerback Cortland Finnegan and returned 80 yards before Max Starks and Heath Miller finally tackled him at the 20.
Polamalu had the quarter of his life before his injury. He burst about 18 yards to stop Chris Johnson at the Tennessee 2 on the Titans' first series. After that, he made several other tackles.
But his best play will make the team's highlight film again next year. The Titans' offense was on the move with a second down at the Steelers' 44 when Collins dropped back and threw deep toward wide receiver Britt.
Polamalu leaped at the 5 and caught the ball with one hand, his left. He then got up and ran it back 16 yards to the 21.
In the third quarter, the running game continued to bog down and Roethlisberger came under almost constant pressure when trying to pass. The Titans broke the deadlock with 11:03 left in the game when Bironas kicked a 45-yard field goal to cap a 36-yard drive after a punt. Jeff Reed retied it, 10-10, with a 32-yard field goal with 2:57 to go.
For more on the Steelers game, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 11, 2009 4:45 AM