About halfway through the second quarter of the Tennessee Titans’ Week 1 showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass with his team leading 2-0. Under pressure, the Steelers quarterback slung the ball 20 yards downfield to the team’s number one receiver, Emmanuel Sanders. As the lame duck of a pass wobbled through the air, Alterraun Verner broke on the ball, undercutting Sanders’ route. The fourth-year defensive back laid out for an incredible diving interception, giving his team great field position and cementing his spot in the starting lineup. The Titans went on to score their only touchdown of the day on the ensuing drive to take the lead, which they didn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
It would be easy to point to Verner’s interception as the turning point in the game, but I think the Titans had the Steelers right where they wanted them long before Roethlisberger’s errant pass. The game’s most pivotal moment came less than four minutes in, when Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey was carted off with a knee injury.
In my mind, the Titans entered the game as the favorites. (I did predict a Tennessee victory, after all) Even though the Steelers were at home, they were playing without their starting tight end, Heath Miller, and their starting running back, Le’Veon Bell. Furthermore, Pittsburgh lost it’s leading receiver in each of the last three seasons to free agency when Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers’ only hope was for Roethlisberger to will them to victory behind a retooled and revamped offensive line. As soon as Pouncey, the best player and clear leader of that unit, went down, Pittsburgh’s fate was sealed. From that point on, it was Tennessee’s game to lose.
Don’t get me wrong, it is still impressive that the Titans traveled to Pittsburgh on their opening weekend and handed the Steeler’s their first loss in a home opener in a decade. It is still impressive that Tennessee’s defense pitched a shutout for 58 minutes and 37 seconds. It is still impressive that the front seven held Pittsburgh to only 32 rushing yards on 15 carries and racked up five sacks. But let’s not get carried away; this very well could be the worst Steelers team assembled in the Roethlisberger era.
Again, not to take anything away from the Titans – they still had to win a rivalry game in enemy territory – I’m just not ready to guarantee a playoff berth quite yet. But if this Titans defense can put on a similarly dominating performance next week in Houston, we’ll talk.