Tennessee Tumble: Titans Fall 13-10 in Close Opener with Pittsburgh Steelers

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst ISeptember 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Quarterback Kerry Collins #5 of the Tennessee Titans looks to pass during the first half of the NFL season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I'll say this much: Based on their last two meetings, the NFL competition committee might consider ensuring that these two teams meet every year for the foreseeable future.

For any fan of football, this was a game that had it all: run-stopping defensive fronts, otherworldly defensive backfields, big names making big plays—all in all, a hard-fought game that took an extra period to decide.

Hines Ward beats Michael Griffin by half a step, and this game is over in regulation.

Troy Polamalu doesn't injure his knee on an improbable field goal attempt, and the Titans may not get that first half touchdown.

Rob Bironas dials in his first field goal attempt (all right, I'll admit that the snap was horrendous), and Pittsburgh loses by three.

Polamalu leaps one second later, and Tennessee puts points up early and takes control of the game.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Neither Pittsburgh nor Tennessee seemed able to put anything together for the first 28 minutes and 46 seconds. Both teams went back and forth making big-time defensive plays, with both Kerry Collins and Ben Roethlisberger trading interceptions.

Of course, Polamalu gets major props for the one-handed grab that few other safeties could have made.

Tennessee threatened to score near the end of the second quarter, when Aaron Smith got his big mitts up and blocked Bironas for only the second time in his career. Pittsburgh recovered at their 21-yard line, but it cost them big: Polamalu went down with a knee injury that would ultimately keep him out for the rest of the game.

More on that in a minute.

Not knowing that the most dynamic player on their defense was exiting the game, Roethlisberger and company put together a five-play, 79-yard scoring drive that put them ahead 7-0.

Enter Collins, a quarterback who has never—yes, NEVER—lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He rather quickly discovers that the defense he faces is not the same one he saw a scant 45 seconds earlier.

Troy Polamalu was nowhere to be found.

Collins and the Titans capitalized on Polamalu's absence and tied the game at seven apiece going into halftime. Cortland Finnegan almost made it 14-7 when he returned an intercepted Hail Mary attempt 80 yards before being forced out of bounds.

After both teams traded field goals in the second half, Pittsburgh had possession late in the fourth quarter and were driving for the potential game-winning score.

Enter the missing half step I mentioned at the outset.

Hines Ward made a fabulous catch on a crossing route and then turned upfield towards the end zone. All he had to do was fall down and Pittsburgh had a chip shot field goal for the win in regulation.

As he is prone to do, Ward let his competitive drive take over, and he uncharacteristically fumbled the ball as he made a cut towards the end zone.

Michael Griffin made a fabulous heads up play, stripping the ball from Ward and sending the game into overtime. If Ward is half a step further up the field, no one stops him.

IF...the biggest word in football.

Once Pittsburgh won the toss, though, it was all over but the shouting.

This time, Roethlisberger's 363-yard effort paid off as he drove the Steelers downfield to the Titans' 15-yard line, and a Jeff Reed field goal sealed the deal.

So now the Titans are 0-1 and the Steelers are 1-0. What exactly does that mean?

To paraphrase Ben Roethlisberger when asked what kind of a statement this sent from the defending champions, none at all. There are still 16 weeks left in the regular season.

Regardless of who you were pulling for, this is shaping up to be one heck of a year.