The Steelers enter the second half with a 16-7 lead, though it certainly had the potential for more. After an excellent opening drive that ended in a 41-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, the offense squandered two trips inside the red zone set up by interceptions by the defense, settling for field goals. The defense also set up a field-goal drive to end the half by forcing a three-and-out.
While the defensive side of the ball has done some good things, and gotten a couple of sacks, the Titans have been able to move the ball well overall. They have been hurting themselves with Marcus Mariota’s interceptions. T.J. Watt also blocked a field goal.
Following a touchback to open the half, Mariota off play action took a deep shot to Rishard Mathews, beating Coty Sensabaugh on a post and then making Robert Golden miss for a 75-yard touchdown. The defense has suddenly become vulnerable to these long balls over the course of the second quarter of the season. Didn’t allow any of 40-plus yards in the first several weeks, yet now four or five in the last five or so games.
All of a sudden it’s just 16-14. Ben Roethlisberger now comes out to the 25 after the touchback. On their first play of the half, it was another pass in the flat to Jesse James, for one yard. Now a connection to Antonio Brown to pick up the first down against Adoree Jackson.
Another quick release went to Le’Veon Bell out in the flat for six yards. Coming back to James, Roethlisberger found him over the middle for 11. Across the middle of the field to the 45, Bell got the edge on a pass for 20 yards. Ben looked down the field for JuJu Smith-Schuster into double coverage in the end zone, resulting in a collision and an incompletion. On second down, a fake jet swee led to a botched end-around, but the Steelers got a break with a roughing the passer that moved them to the 16. Dumb penalty by Jurrell Casey.
Now in the red zone again, Roethlisberger scrambled out of pressure and looked like he hit Brown for the score, but Jackson was able to get a hand in there to prevent the touchdown. Great play by the rookie. On second down, Bell was smothered for a loss on the draw run. Now third and really long, Smith-Schuster held on through hard contact to make a great catch to set up first and goal. That’s a play that will really endear you to a Pittsburgh audience.
Set up at the five-yard line, it was an easy pitch-and-catch to Brown for the score, his second of the game, as the Steelers match the Titans’ opening drive, with a red zone score, making it 23-14.
After, yeah, another touchback, it was DeMarco Murray getting the ball on first down for five. Mariota felt late pressure but got the throw out to Delanie Walker, beating Golden back inside and breaking some tackles for 42 yards, suddenly dangerous once again at the 28. A bad miss in open space on a flat to Murray led to a nine-yard gain. On second and one, Murray backed his way through the middle for one.
With a fresh set of downs in the red zone, Mariota had an easy touchdown flat-out dropped by Walker in the end zone, the defense temporarily being spared big time. Walker this time picked up six on a screen. On third and manageable, Mariota was pressured instantly on a stunt, with Cameron Heyward ultimately finishing it off for his second sack of the game, and seventh of the season. Big play for the defensive captain, who has been dominant this year. Ryan Succop connected from 44 to make it 23-17.
Roethlisberger was sacked for the third time of the game for a loss of three, all three sacks looking to me like sacks that didn’t need to be taken. Bell picked up three yards on second down. On third and 10, quickly, Martavis Bryant was left wide open for a 20-yard catch. Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster on the move for another first.
After an inside screen to Bell for nine, he completed the first-down himself for a two-yard run. Beating the blitz, Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster on a crosser for a nice little gain of seven yards. A quick comeback to Brown for four set up first and goal.
Going five wide from the eight, Roethlisberger looked for Smith-Schuster over the middle in traffic, the pass broken up. Now with Bell in the backfield, he got it, and he found his way into the end zone for his sixth rushing touchdown of the year, followed by a Monkey-in-the-Middle celebration as the Steelers expand their lead to 30-17.
Scratch that, the play was reviewed and Bell was ruled down inches shy of the goal line, setting up third and goal. Maybe NOW we finally see a quarterback sneak? No. Play-action to Jesse James, selling the block for a wide-open touchdown, his first since the opener. Ben Roethlisberger’s first three-touchdown game of the year. Another red-zone score as well. Fire Todd Haley.
After an illegal shift and a four-yard pass, Mariota nearly threw a pick to Sensabaugh. On third and 11, the pass was well short intended for Walker, the defense forcing a three-and-out. Brown looked like he might break out on the punt return, but ran into Terrell Watson trying to block, gaining about 14 yards on the return from roughly the 34 to the 48.
Starting just shy of midfield, Roethlisberger off play action found Brown on a corner route for 23, quickly to near the Titans’ 30. The pass to Smith-Schuster drew a defensive pass interference penalty to set up yet another red zone trip.
The ball placed at the 15, Bell got the carry and backed his way ahead for five yards. At the 10, Roethlisberger threw the fade to Brown, who made an absolutely fantastic catch using the side of his helmet for his third touchdown of the game, and Roethlisberger’s fourth, as the Steelers, for pretty much the first time all season, have broken open the game.
Oh, it’s 37-17 now by the way.
Heyward suffered an injury that kept him on the field as they went into a commercial break. On the following play, Mariota’s pass was tipped by Artie Burns, picked off by Golden for their third interception of the game.
After a six-yard screen to Bell, the back found space for first-down yardage. Following a short gain on the ground, Roethlisberger, slightly fumbling with the snap, hit Bryant on a great throw to the sideline before he was even turned around. That’s a trust-building play there. He went out to the sideline as Vance McDonald put his arm around him.
As Bell pinballs his way through the middle for four, Bryant checks back in for second and six. Roethlisberger flipped the ball out to Bell as he was getting hit, and the running back was able to make a play, finding space for the first down and more.
Now inside the 20, at the 17, James Conner checked into the game for three. They fumbled the exchange on second down, but Conner was able to take it for five to set up third and two. Bell was stopped a yard shy of the first, however, so the offense settled for a Chris Boswell field goal for the first time of the second half, extending their lead to 40-17.
Vince Williams picked up his sixth sack of the season on first down. Walker, who dropped a big touchdown earlier, was tackled two yards shy of the first down on the next play. On third and two, Mike Hilton was flagged for pass interference.
T.J. Watt did a great job of making sure Mariota couldn’t get out to the sideline, forcing him to throw it away, but there was an offensive hold on the play anyway, drawn by Heyward, who is back out on the field. His scrambling throw on second down was incomplete, wide and high to the right. Following another missed tackle by Sean Davis on a checkdown to Murray for a chunk, Mariota on third and seven found Mathews over the middle for eight. L.T. Walton tripped up Mariota on a scramble for a sack. Following a short gain, the quarterback was wide on third and five. Davis picked off the pass and returned it to the 22.
The backups now in the game, Landry Jones handed off to Conner for five. Following the two-minute warning, we got to the kneel-down portion of your scheduled program, turning the ball over on downs with 44 seconds remaining with a 23-point lead. The Steelers move on to 8-2, at least temporarily alone as the best record in the AFC.