From injured all-pros to broken ankles and broken retirements, the Steelers overcame the adversity borne of sloppy play and trying circumstances, while getting back to their normal tendencies: running, defending....and well, winning.
After a tentative start that saw Chris Johnson gain 21 yards on the first offensive play of the game, Pittsburgh's defense held the Titans to a field goal.
Shortly afterwards, the offense answered Tennessee's opening score with a touchdown to steal early momentum. From there, the game snowballed on the Titans, who were blown out by the final score of 38-17.
If winning is the tonic that cures what ails struggling teams, Pittsburgh got its first dose of a very necessary medicine.
The combination of Ben Roethlisberger's historic afternoon and reemergence from a proud defensive front equated to the first of two important wins against historically pesky AFC South rivals at Heinz Field.
Before looking ahead to the pestering Jacksonville Jaguars (who are 12-9 against Pittsburgh since entering the league in 1995), let's look back at 10 observations from today's Titan-ic victory over formerly 3-1 Tennessee.
After Chris Johnson scurried for a quick 21-yard gain on the game's opening play, Steelers Nation—despite the long game ahead—took a moment to let out a brief (and collective- don't deny it!) mental sigh.
Any anxiety caused by Tennessee's opening drive success was quickly alleviated.
On his next 13 carries, Chris Johnson was held to 30 yards in a showcase of pride and capability from the defensive line.
With key members of the defense out due to injury, everybody stepped up their game. Chris Hoke broke up runs in the backfield and got pressure on the quarterback. His presence in replacing Hampton was incredible!
Brett Keisel was a consistent force on the end, disrupting the interior without compromising the defensive edge and allowing Johnson to gain yardage off-tackle.
Further kudos go to Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, whose early sack of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck prevented the Titans from scoring an early touchdown.
With the running game ground to a halt and the Titans' most significant receiving weapon injured, the Steelers were able to expose his absence, forcing numerous incompletions and causing hesitation from Hasselbeck.
The quarterback was forced to throw 49 times, resulting in only 260 yards (a low average per attempt) and an interception.
Stopping the run hindered the entirety of the Titans' offensive attack. It really is just that simple.
Max Starks was a force at left tackle, consistently protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side and allowing the injured quarterback to have a historic game.
If any element of the game was important for the Steelers' long-term success, it was the health of Big Ben. Leaving the field unscathed, Roethlisberger will have another week for his foot to heal and the ability to engage in light preparations for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The magnitude of this convenience for the limping field general cannot be understated.
As a whole, both due to Roethlisberger's quick and decisive passing and the overall improvement of the maligned offensive line, the game was a complete upgrade.
Creases were available for running backs, and a few gaping holes led to explosive plays from the running game. These are the types of plays teams need to be respectable on stat sheets, and the Steelers got such bursts against the Titans.
While there is work to be done and all-pro defenders ahead, the entire performance was a refreshing reminder that perhaps not all is lost upfront in 2011.
With his stellar play at tackle and surefire influence on the men standing to his right, Max Starks gets a great deal of credit! His presence could be the catalyst the offensive line needed.
Today, the Steelers executed a fake punt that gained a first down deep into Tennessee territory. Had the play failed, the Titans would have possessed the ball at midfield with an opportunity to turn the momentum Pittsburgh had built into their favor.
The right arm of Sepulveda was the difference between the coaches being heroes or goats.
The impact of the play cannot be understated. The Titans mercifully only trailed at halftime 21-3, blindsided by the snowball effect of the fake punt pass. Instead of having the ball and trailing by four points, the Steelers led 21-3 shortly after the trick!
Gadgets plays are great when they work, are they not? Today, the gambles went in the Steelers' favor. Chalk up one for the home team!
Personally, I suppose Matt Hasselbeck has to be sick of the tricks up the Steelers' sleeves. Surely, he remembers the pass from Antwaan Randle-El to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL quite vividly.
Inches. In the NFL, it's the difference between being league MVP and having "No Freakin' Luck," to use the acronym!
For Troy Polamalu, the 2011 season has been a classic display of forcing media members to eat their words, whether this is one of his intentions. Being called the most overrated player in the NFL months ago by a comical journalist who must use sarcasm as his main tool, Troy has been nothing but stellar!
Getting into backfield in split seconds, breaking up passes in the end zone and disrupting offensive timing from all areas of the field.
Today, he continued his fine play without a reward to show for it on the stat sheet. His is the perfect example that great play does not necessarily equate to statistics.
In the first half, he nearly had two interceptions, one of them deflecting off of his hand, and he dove to break up a Hasselbeck pass over the middle of the field.
Despite the lack of accumulating turnovers, his presence around the football is undeniable and his impact on defense is the reason the Steelers have a winning record.
At cornerback, opponents are not even throwing to Ike Taylor. Late in the contest against Tennessee, color commentator Dan Dierdorf noted that the opposition hadn't even targeted a receiver in Taylor's vicinity.
His blanketing coverage on the oppositions' best weapons may be the most understated reason for the Steelers' success in the secondary. Pittsburgh was very wise to re-sign the superb cover corner during the offseason.
In the photo, the safety and corner combined for a key play on the Titans' opening drive, forcing the football from the hands of Nate Washington as he hit the ground. The play prevented an early touchdown and was a sign of things to come for the day from both men.
With only one-and-a-half sacks heading into today's game, Steelers fans were waiting to see the big boot of Lamar Woodley.
Today, the linebacker doubled his sack total, serving as a consistent source of frustration in the Tennessee backfield.
He also ended another bothersome stretch for the Steelers defense.
Brett Keisel deflected a Matt Hasselbeck pass into the air, and Woodley grabbed plucked it from the skies to secure his finest game of the season.
Killing two birds with one stone, Woodley's production is back on track and the defense has finally intercepted an opposing passer.
Dating back Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers had played 18 quarters of football without an interception.
Recently, I noted that Hines Ward's production was unacceptable—even with consideration to the offense's struggles—and questioned his role on the starting offense beyond 2011 if the trend continued.
If he can continue to contribute in the manner showcased in today's fantastic effort, my observation will be rendered moot. It was only one game, but it certainly flashed back to the brilliance Hines has displayed throughout his Steelers career.
Key catches and backbreaking touchdowns. That flashy smile and a little dance. And downfield blocking.
All were on display today from "Psycho" Ward, No. 86 winding back the clocks a few years.
What Steelers fan wasn't whooping and hollering like it was 2004 when Ward dove over the defender and into the end zone during the second half?
With two touchdowns, including on a seamlessly executed play action near the goal line, Ward helped to keep the Titans at bay. Today, Hines led receivers on both teams with seven receptions for 54 yards.
While I'd be remiss not to note that these numbers are not glowing, his opportune playmaking at critical red zone moments is what really counted in today's fine effort.
While Mike Wallace has been the team's most dangerous weapon and Antonio Brown is the offense's silent assassin, Ward served notice to the fans that there's something left in the tank.
Whether that's a quarter-tank or the gas light has come on will be determined in the coming weeks. Either way, it was nice to see Hines Ward dancing and delivering footballs to fans at Heinz Field again!
Amidst a sea of Terrible Towels (pink...blech!) waving and Steelers players executing brilliantly, hypnosis will occur—as it always does!
Fans will claim the team is absolutely back, and visions of the Lombardi Trophy will dominate water coolers.
Sports commentators will speak to the overreaction of a discerning public, saying that they wrote off the Steelers too quickly during their struggles, a fault that they also share but would never admit.
Truthfully, the win was huge. It was one game worth cheering about...for exactly one week. And only one week.
The reality of the situation is that short-term success is worth celebrating, but it should be tempered with regard to the journey ahead.
Don't get me wrong! For all of the prognostications of doom that can be born from a single contest, rejoicing should be the reaction to a fine win!
For the past month, Steelers Country has been riddled with the rhetorical:
"What happened to these guys?"
"Are these really the defending AFC Champions?"
Today, the Steelers played with pride, and the result was a 3-2 record that has been disguised amidst obvious deficiencies and pessimism.
With a key victory in the books, it is equally important to keep things in perspective. Just as one loss does not destroy a season, a lone win is not a source of salvation. It is a start.
The offensive line issues that plagued the offense still need to be addressed.
The defensive front still needs to work hard to replicate today's results.
Ben Roethlisberger needs to use this game as a compass for his future performances. And, above all else, his foot is still injured.
Steelers Nation can revel in glory to match their agony in defeat, but the old saying holds true. It's never as good...or as bad...as it seems!
For this Sunday's success to mean anything, the team must continue to improve and win.
How many fists pumped in Western Pennsylvania when Isaac Redman battered Titans defenders, breaking tacklers and charging forward on a key first down run in the second half?
Without giving the exact time or moment in the game, most Steelers fans know exactly which run is being referenced. After all, their adrenaline peaked in unison with everyone else's surge.
Today's display of hard running by Steelers backs was a prideful return to normalcy for a franchise and fanbase that had come to expect it.
Redman ran the ball 15 times for for 49 yards. While his average seems pedestrian, his effort and key gains were exemplary.
Perhaps the most touching effort of the afternoon came from Jonathan Dwyer, whose 76-yard burst led the way to 107 yards.
It was an exciting afternoon for the young Steelers running back, and a welcome return to roots for the Steelers running attack.
Aside from the oddness of 25 percent of the NFL games being dominated by the color pink (a trend that I hate but understand for the great fight against cancer), the scene at Heinz Field was perfect.
The fans were loud, the team was executing, and the Titans found themselves caught in a whirlwind of points and momentum for the Black and Gold.
Late in the game, the Steelers ran time off the clock, capped the contest with an important score and sent the faithful to their automobiles full of joy! Driving home from the game is always better after a win; local radio is barely entertaining following a loss.
So far, Heinz Field sees the Steelers at 2-0 in 2011. The Steelers must continue this trend in order to set themselves up for bigger things in January.
The division race is certainly not over, and the second half at least appears to be manageable for Pittsburgh. With a tough gauntlet of games in the weeks ahead, the Steelers win over the Titans cannot be overstated.
It was HUGE. Home field is still the cure for Pittsburgh's struggles, and teams still have to respect coming to the Steel City for a football game.
Beating Jacksonville to go 3-0 at home is vital, as a road game against the Cardinals may be closer than expected before consecutive contests against Super Bowl aspiring squads in New England and Baltimore.
So, was Ben that good or was the Titans pass defense that bad? Naturally, it was both.
Two years after going 33-for-43 against Tennessee, Ben Roethlisberger faced a secondary that added Jordan Babineaux in an attempt to improve.
After a 97-yard touchdown return against Cleveland put him in the good graces of fans, Titans faithful heard little from the safety in today's game.
The only great plays from the Titans' secondary came on a deflection of a third-down pass over the deep middle for Hines Ward (before the fake punt) and an interception by Cortland Finnegan before halftime.
Removing those two moments, the secondary got manhandled again by Big Ben. Last time, the Titans managed to stay in the game, losing 13-10.
Today, Roethlisberger made them pay.
Completing 24-of-34 attempts, Ben threw five touchdowns on a bum foot and made it look surprisingly easy.
Despite cringed expressions and obvious limping, Roethlisberger stood tall in the pocket, made precise throws (aside from early in the first possession), and even scrambled on a few occasions with no obvious hindrance from the injury.
After using his eyes to fend off the safeties, Ben began his abuse of the Titans secondary with an early touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
It was the first in a series of frustrating events for Titans' defensive backs at Heinz Field.
For the second time in his career, Roethlisberger threw a touchdown for every finger on his throwing hand, and the effort gave the quarterback more touchdowns than interceptions on the season.
Against the Jaguars, the potential is there for another great performance by Big Ben.