PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers exorcised several demons from the opening quarter in this NFL season during a 38-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
First, there was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was beaten by the opposition and berated by his hometown during the Steelers 2-2 start. Against the Titans, Roethlisberger was near perfect. He did throw one bad pick at the end of the first half, but it didn’t hurt the Steelers and appeared to be as much of a miscommunication between he and three receivers in the area, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, as it was a poor throw.
Other than that, Roethlisberger was brilliant with 24-for-34 passing for 228 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, five touchdown passes for just the second time in his career. He also torched the Baltimore Ravens for five in the first half in a 2007 game when the Steelers celebrated their 75th anniversary.
“We expect Ben to play well,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s an A-player. He’s got to play A for us, in order for us to do well.”
Second, the Steelers much-maligned offensive line was exceptional. Max Starks got a game ball from Tomlin for his performance at left tackle. Starks was not beaten in the game, as Roethlisberger was sacked just once and hurried once.
“I came in and just tried to plug in and fit in as cleanly as I could,” Starks said. “I tried to make sure that I communicated cleanly so that everybody else knew. And we all got on the same page, (but) it felt great. I was very surprised. For my first game back, I thought I was going to get a lot more winded.”
The line was shuffled in-game once again, as center Maurkice Pouncey (right knee) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (right shoulder again) were injured. Doug Legursky moved from left guard to center, and Trai Essex played left guard. Jonathan Scott played right tackle in the second half for Gilbert. Pouncey returned and should be fine, Tomlin said. Gilbert is another story.
“We will keep an eye on him and see where he is,” Tomlin said, noting that it was the same shoulder injury that sidelined him earlier this season.
“So that’s why we’ll continue to monitor it. It’s probably going to make him uncomfortable in the beginning of the week. But we’ll be optimistic, be inclusive from a mentality standpoint about his participation this week. It’s something we are definitely going to have to look at.”
Roethlisberger also was able to move the ball around quite a bit in the passing game, as 11 different receivers caught passes. Hines Ward led the way with seven for 54 and two scores. Mike Wallace had six catches for 82 yards, including that huge 40-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger to cap the scoring with less than three minutes remaining, while Heath Miller added three for 46 and one touchdown.
“We knew we could have a game like this is we kept working hard and working together,” Ward said. “Ben was very sharp today, and he got the ball out quickly. But when he needed it, our offensive line gave him enough time. They played very well today, so it was a good, all-around effort on offense.”
The same could be said for the defense, as LaMarr Woodley finally showed up after four games with minimal production. Woodley registered three tackles, 1.5 sacks, one stop behind the line, two quarterback hits, an interception and one pass breakup. It was a long time coming for Woodley.
“I played pretty good,” Woodley said. “I made a few plays, but we got the win and that’s the most important thing, especially coming off the loss to the Houston Texans last week. But everybody on defense deserves mention.
“Everybody was just in there doing their job, making sure they were staying in their gap and not trying to overdo it and make plays. Everybody was just playing their gap, allowing people that are supposed to make plays make plays.”
A final note should be made for the Steelers rushing game, which has not gotten untracked all season and appeared to be in for a long day considering the offensive line issues and the injured hamstring of Rashard Mendenhall. Instead of struggling, however, the Steelers ran for 174 total yards.
Those yards primarily came from starting back Isaac Redman and super sub Jonathan Dwyer, two second-year players. Redman made his first start and was solid with 49 yards on 15 carries, but it seemed like much more. Dwyer had a spectacular 76-yard run early and finished with 107 yards on 11 carries in just his second NFL game.
“Throughout the week, they prepared me to play,” Dwyer said. “And I got my mind ready to play for every circumstance, from special teams to running back. Coach Kirby Wilson got me prepared, and all the other coaches got me prepared for this game.
“And the O-line, they answered the challenge that everybody gave them. Coach Tomlin gave the challenge to them this week, and they answered the criticism (from) everybody who doubted them and everybody else. They showed the league what we’re about.”
The next team in line to find out about the Steelers are the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Heinz Field.