Fill-ins embrace role in dominating victory
Ben Roethlisberger gave the 63,875 fans at Heinz Field plenty to cheer about Sunday. Roethlisberger passed for a franchise record-tying five touchdown in the Steelers' 38-17 victory.
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The Steelers did not look like themselves, not through the first quarter of the season the way they played, and certainly not Sunday with whom they played.
On Sunday, they weren't their normal selves because they played without James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Kemoeatu and more. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played, but he played with a metal plate in his oversized left shoe to protect a sprained foot. Against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, they played with an offensive line that was 80 percent different than the one that opened the season a month ago -- and then they began losing more linemen.
It was not a good day ... for Tennessee. The Steelers clubbed the Titans, 38-17, after running out to a 28-7 third-quarter lead. The defense that could not stop Ray Rice or Arian Foster, slammed 2,000-yard runner Chris Johnson, holding him to 51 yards on 14 carries -- 30 yards on his final 13 carries.
Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes for the second time in his career, a Steelers record, and Jonathan Dwyer suited up for only his second game in his two seasons and ran for 107 yards on 11 carries, including one of the longest runs in team history, 76 yards. Hines Ward caught two touchdown passes for the first time in a game in two seasons. LaMarr Woodley came alive with an interception, the team's first, 11/2 sacks and two quarterback hurries.
And, no, the Steelers are not done. They climbed to 3-2 and, well, they looked like the Steelers for a change even if many of those were new faces looking back.
"We've always been like that," said Ward, who caught seven passes for 54 yards including touchdowns of 7 and 5 yards. "Last year, we didn't have our quarterback for the first four games and we found a way to come together."
They found more than one. They used Antonio Brown's 52-yard kickoff return to set up their first touchdown, an 8-yard pass to Heath Miller. They used a fake punt when Daniel Sepulveda passed for 33 yards to Ryan Mundy to set up their second score, Ward's 7-yard catch. And they turned Woodley's interception off a batted pass by Brett Keisel to start a drive that ended with Shaun Suisham's 19-yard field goal.
"It's a team thing," Woodley explained.
"We've always had guys around here who can play," James Farrior said of the backups.
The Steelers had only seven sacks and one turnover through four games. Matt Hasselbeck, sacked just four times this season, added three more, including rookie Cameron Heyward's first (he would have had a second but Hasselbeck threw the ball away for intentional grounding).
"Everybody was just in there doing their job, making sure they were staying in their gap and not trying to overdo it and make plays," Woodley explained as to how his defense could perform so well with three Pro Bowlers missing.
"We expect to play well," is how Steelers coach Mike Tomlin succinctly put it.
David Johnson also caught a 1-yard scoring pass from Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace caught the final one of 40 yards with 2:39 left. Roethlisberger and Wallace have hooked up on 10 touchdown passes of 40 yards or more, stretching their team record.
Rob Bironas kicked a 29-yard field goal to end the first series of the game for Tennessee's only lead at 3-0. Johnson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
A blocked punt set up a late Titans touchdown, a 19-yard pass from Hasselbeck to Damian Williams with 3:30 to go.
The Steelers scored one touchdown in the first, two in the second, one in the third and one in the fourth to go with Suisham's field goal in the fourth.
Ward's second touchdown of the game came on third down and he leaped over safety Michael Griffin to get there, from 5 yards out, as if he were Troy Polamalu.
"He was very sharp with all his reads," Ward said of Roethlisberger, who completed 24 of 34 for 228 yards and one interception to go with his five touchdowns. "They played a lot of cover-2 and usually when teams play cover-2, we are supposed to be able to run the ball effectively, which we did. And it opened up things in the middle for Heath and me."
The Steelers had their best game running this season with 174 yards and a 6.2-yard average. Isaac Redman, who started for Mendenhall, had 49 yards on 15 carries.
"I'm not the only guy playing with an injury," said Roethlisberger, who was sacked once. "More impressively and more importantly is how guys have stepped up and filled in for people. I don't think I have enough time to name all the guys. There were so many."
They all helped the Steelers finally look like the Steelers.