Steelers Notebook: Team spells motivation with an 'R'
Antonio Brown gave the Steelers a quick lift, taking back the opening kickoff 89 yards. Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas makes one last attempt to bring him down.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just two games into the season, Mike Tomlin played the no-respect card.
The Steelers were underdogs in their first two games and swept both of them, doing so without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the man who was supposed to replace him, Byron Leftwich.
"Regardless of our demise being reported, we expect to win," Tomlin declared Sunday. "We're pleased that we are 2-0 but we are not astounded by it. We're capable. We're a little bit annoyed, to be quit honest, about our premature reporting of our death."
Chris Hoke, starting for injured Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton, explained why his coach felt as he did.
"A lot of times, you guys don't see what all goes on with our team," Hoke said. "We know we've got a lot of great players out here. We've got a chip on our shoulder this year because of how things went down last year with our five-game losing streak. So, we have something to prove.
"So, sometimes when people write that we're not going to be very good or maybe they'll go 2-2 or 1-3 when Ben's out, that's a lot of the stuff that [ticks] us off."
Peter King, writing in Sports Illustrated before the season, picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl.
With one quarterback hurt and two injured, Tomlin is not sure what he will do as the Steelers prepare to play in Tampa next Sunday.
"I don't know who is going to play quarterback next week. I know it won't be me. I'm not good enough."
Dennis Dixon left the game with a left knee injury in the second quarter. Byron Leftwich returned to practice the past week and was listed as probable, two weeks after his left knee was injured with a second-degree MCL sprain. The Steelers released Leftwich Saturday to make room for a sixth defensive lineman, Scott McLendon, because of the injury to Hampton.
That left Charlie Batch as the only healthy quarterback Sunday. The Steelers expect to re-sign Leftwich today and either he, Batch or even Dixon could start in Tampa.
"I always want to throw my hat in the ring," Batch said. "It is just a matter of if the opportunity presents itself, I will be ready. You never know when your number is going to be called upon."
The Steelers looked to be OK with other injuries, even though players kept leaving the field with one form of physical ailment or another.
Guard Trai Essex left with an ankle injury but returned to play. Hoke left with a "stinger" in his shoulder but also returned (McLendon replaced Hoke for about six snaps and recovered a fumble).
Two other starting linemen, guard Chris Kemoeatu and tackle Flozell Adams, had to leave the game because they were dehydrated. They returned and the Steelers shuffled linemen in and out. Jonathan Scott, making his first start for the Steelers at left tackle for injured Max Starks, moved to right tackle when Adams went out and Tony Hills came in to play left tackle. Doug Legursky filled in at guard.
The only lineman who played every snap was rookie center Maurkice Pouncey.
"We have a lot of guys who are versatile, that can play any position," Pouncey said. "It shows the flexibility of the offensive line and what guys are willing to do for the team."
Hines Ward, who had a career-high 108 yards for an opener the previous week, managed just one catch for 9 yards Sunday. Nevertheless, it was enough to keep his streak of 180 consecutive games with at least one reception. That's the fifth longest in NFL history and just three behind Art Monk for No. 4.
For the second game in row, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was all over the field -- one of the reasons Titans Chris Johnson had his string of consecutive 100-yard games ended at 12.
Timmons had 15 tackles, 12 solo, against the Titans and forced a fumble with a stunning hit on Johnson near the end of the first quarter. In two games, Timmons now has 26 tackles (21 solo) with four tackles for losses.
"We just wanted to go out and establish the line of scrimmage," Timmons said. "That's what we did. We wanted to put the game in No. 10's hands," he said, referring to quarterback Vince Young, "and we didn't want Johnson to have any long runs."
It didn't take long for tempers to flash between the teams.
On the Steelers' first play from scrimmage, Dixon's quick pass for Ward was incomplete, leading to shoving between Ward and several Titans players in front of the Tennessee bench.
The reason: Titans defensive end Tony Ball, thinking the pass was a lateral, picked up the ball and began running.
Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown and Steelers lineman Kemoeatu were each penalized for offsetting personal fouls on the play.
"Those kinds of things happen," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who came out onto the field to separate his players. "You don't want to see them, but there was some pushing and shoving and some uncertainty on whether the ball was a lateral or what have you. The officials did a good job of getting it sorted out."
The Titans don't have a quarterback controversy. Repeat after coach Fisher: "Vince is still our starter. He will start next week against the [New York] Giants. There is no quarterback controversy."
That didn't stop Fisher from replacing Young early in the fourth quarter with Kerry Collins, a 16-year pro from Penn State. Young was 7 for 10 for 66 yards and had thrown two interceptions and lost a fumble. The Titans trailed, 16-3. "I just thought we needed a spark," Fisher said. "I wasn't concerned honestly about [Young's] feelings at that point. I was trying to win the football game."
Young, who had been 9-2 as the starter since replacing Collins after the Titans got off to an 0-6 start last season, said he was "definitely disappointed" about the benching but, otherwise, appeared to take it in stride. "Things happen," he said. "Everybody says, 'Keep your head up and get ready for the next game.' "
Collins completed 17 of 25 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown but also threw an interception and lost a fumble.
Titans All-Pro running back Johnson saw his 100-yard rushing streak end against a Steelers defense that held him to 34 yards on 16 carries, but Johnson would have kept the streak going if not for a holding penalty against center Eugene Amano that wiped out an 85-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. That would have tied the score, 10-10.
"It was like a dagger in our heart," Johnson said. "From then on, everything just started going downhill. I kind of think that took the breath out of us."
Steelers outside linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison continue to leave their mark in the Steelers' record book. Woodley sacked Collins midway through the fourth quarter, giving him at least one-half sack in a record 10 consecutive games. Harrison had two sacks, moving him ahead of Ernie Holmes into ninth place on the all-time sack list with 41 1/2.