NASHVILLE, Tenn. » This time, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat their struggling opponent.
Ben Roethlisberger threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with 9:01 left, and the Steelers edged the Tennessee Titans 27-24 on Monday night.
The Steelers (7-4) staged an impressive rally in the second half to take sole possession of second in the successful AFC North heading into their bye. Le’Veon Bell ran for 204 yards and a TD, and William Gay returned an interception 28 yards for a score. Shaun Suisham kicked two field goals.
"I think we’re only going to get stronger," Bell said. "We’ve obviously still got to get better, work as a team. But we’re going to enjoy the week off. It’s well deserved, well needed. We’re going to enjoy it and get back to work when we need to."
Roethlisberger had never beaten the Titans at LP Field, missing the Steelers’ win here in 2010. With Bell running through and over the Titans, the Steelers took the pressure off Big Ben by holding the ball for 39 minutes, 49 seconds with a 386-312 edge in total offense.
"He got rolling, and we couldn’t make a play and that’s disappointing," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That’s the way it went. We tried a lot of different things to try to stop their run game."
The Titans (2-8) blew a 24-13 lead in their fourth consecutive loss. They sacked Roethlisberger five times and intercepted a pass in the end zone. Zach Mettenberger threw for 263 yards and two touchdown passes, and fellow rookie Bishop Sankey ran for another score.
But Tennessee’s offense fizzled in the fourth quarter. When Pittsburgh got the ball back with 6:58 left, the Steelers didn’t give it back and knelt out for the win.
"We feel very close," Mettenberger said. "We’re not doing enough to win football games. That’s the bottom line and the most important thing. But rookie running back, rookie left tackle, rookie quarterback, rookie middle linebacker. We’re doing a lot of good things."
Mettenberger and the Titans got off to an awful start, and then erased a 10-0 deficit with an impressive flurry.
Suisham also had a 49-yarder for the first score of the game, and Gay picked off Mettenberger on the Titans’ first offensive play and returned it for the TD.
Roethlisberger had been intercepted only five times this season. But the Titans sacked him three times in the second quarter, and Jason McCourty picked off a pass intended for Brown in the end zone with 44 seconds left in the first half.
The Titans called timeout, and then Mettenberger threw to a wide-open Nate Washington, who beat Gay with a stutter-step on his way to a career-best 80-yard touchdown reception. Washington, who won two Super Bowl rings in Pittsburgh, wagged his finger at the crowd once he got to the 25.
Mettenberger added a 4-yard TD pass to Chase Coffman in the third quarter, capping an 11-play drive for a 24-13 lead.
The Steelers responded with Bell’s 5-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth, and Roethlisberger’s TD to Brown was enough for the win. Brown had nine receptions for 91 yards in another solid performance.
Two of Pittsburgh’s losses this season have come against Tampa Bay and the Jets, teams with a combined four wins, and coach Mike Tomlin is 1-8 all-time against teams with a winning percentage of .200 or worse.
Former Titans veteran Mike Munchak coached the Steelers’ offensive line in his first game in his NFL career against the franchise he spent 32 seasons with as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and coach. The Titans let Munchak go in January after going 22-26 in three seasons as head coach, and Munchak’s offensive line opened big holes for Bell.
"I was just able to get to the second level and make a couple of guys miss, keep my feet moving and try to get first downs and hold on to the ball," Bell said. "That’s all I was thinking about."
Whisenhunt, who won a Super Bowl ring as offensive coordinator with Pittsburgh, took over the Titans in January, trying to turn around a franchise that last won a playoff game in January 2004. Whisenhunt already is on his third quarterback in Tennessee in Mettenberger.
Tennessee was without tight end Delanie Walker, who wasn’t cleared after he suffered a concussion last week in Baltimore. That left the Titans with three tight ends not on the roster at the start of the season, including Coffman who was here during the preseason. The Steelers were without four defensive starters, including Troy Polamalu.
It was the coldest game at LP Field with the temperature at kickoff at 25 degrees.
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Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press