Steelers vs. Titans: A Season Saved at the Final Gun
As Rob Bironas' winning field goal soared through to make the score 26-23, the Titans celebrated the end of one of the most difficult opening stretches faced by any team in the NFL. Tennessee had the second-hardest schedule in the NFL through five weeks, but even at 2-4, it isn't dead yet.
The Titans were far from dominant but made the big plays when they had to. The biggest of the night was a blocked Drew Butler punt to end the first quarter. At the time, the Titans trailed 10-6, but when Tim Shaw knocked the ball back toward the goal line, it set up a go-ahead score.
Despite a six-point halftime lead, the Titans defense spent most of the second half trying to give it back to Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger put up 363 yards passing for the visitors and nearly put Pittsburgh in position to win the game.
With one minute and 52 seconds to play, Pittsburgh moved the ball to the Titans' 39-yard line but could only manage three yards on the next three plays. Shaun Suisham's 54-yard field goal that would have given the Steelers a 26-23 lead fell just a yard short.
With the game tied and the ball already at their own 45, Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans marched 33 yards over the final 49 seconds to set up their own game-winning try. The key pass was a 25-yard catch-and-run by Jared Cook, who beat the Pittsburgh linebackers to the sidelines and sprinted into field-goal range.
Tennessee proved that getting a victory wasn't about massive improvement in any one area but incremental steps on several fronts.
The defense wasn't stellar, allowing 23 points, but 23 is better than 30.
Chris Johnson was uneven, posting 91 yards rushing, but 91 is better than 24.
Hasselbeck took bad sacks and threw a terrible interception but managed to make a few plays when it counted, putting up the final 10 points of the game.
Once again, the special teams came up with the one extra play the Titans needed to snake out their second win.
The storm has now passed for the Titans, and looking ahead, they have a much more manageable slate. To get to 9-7 on the season, they'll have to sweep division rivals Indianapolis and Jacksonville, as well as beat the Dolphins and Bills on the road and the Jets at home.
None of those teams currently has a winning record, so it's certainly conceivable the Titans can still go on a nice run.
Ultimately, it will take more than incremental improvement to save 2012. There's still a long way to go for Tennessee, but by beating the Steelers, the Titans may have purchased the time they needed to get the journey under way.
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