The Pittsburgh Steelers had not scored on an opening drive in quite some time—23 games heading into today. That finally changed to start the game against the Tennessee Titans, the team making the rare choice of taking possession first after winning the opening coin toss.
Although they took possession at the 25-yard line, they actually gained 100 yards of offense, including 84 passing yards, thanks to two penalties by right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. But they were able to overcome both penalties and get the ball in the end zone, Ben Roethlisberger finding Diontae Johnson for the 11-yard touchdown, his second of the season.
And that was after they had first and goal from the one. Roethlisberger originally hit James Conner for a score, but Okorafor was flagged for a facemask penalty on the play, negating the points. The quarterback would hit Johnson two plays later on second and goal from the 11.
Johnson, in his first game back, was targeted four times on the opening drive, catching three passes for 39 yards. He had just one reception for minus-two yards since week two when he caught eight passes for 92 yards and a score, but he played just 25 snaps during that span due to injuries.
Conner was also effective running the ball, albeit infrequently, as he carried just three times for 15 yards. Benny Snell also gained one yard on one carry, but that was a third-down conversion that set up the initial 1st-and-goal.
For whatever reason, the Steelers have struggled to get the ball in the end zone on the opening possession. Of course, last season, playing 14 games without Roethlisberger did not help, but 23 consecutive games, regardless of who is at quarterback, is an excessively long time between touchdowns.
Pittsburgh looked to be off to a promising start a week ago against the Cleveland Browns before they were forced to settle for a field goal. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that they opted to receive to start the game, when they almost always choose to defer instead.
The Titans have among the highest-scoring offenses in the league with one of the best running games. The best way to force an offense to put its running game on the back burner is to load up the scoreboard and make them play from behind, so getting seven on the board early was particularly important in this showdown of unbeatens.
In fact, it proved to be the springboard needed to mount a 20-point lead that was required to secure victory in the end. The Titans rallied to score 17 unanswered in the second half, and only failed to send it into overtime with a missed 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds to go.
Not a bad time to break out for your first opening-drive touchdown in about a season and a half, to be sure.