NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans might have just salvaged their season Thursday night with a 26-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at LP Field.
Rob Bironas nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired to propel the Titans to the upset victory in front of a national television audience.
And while Tennessee's 2-4 record still isn't pretty, it is still a far cry from what would have happened had Tennessee not rallied from a 23-16 deficit with 10 fourth-quarter points in the final 4:19.
“Can you imagine 1-5? Can you imagine the despair of that?” asked linebacker Tim Shaw, whose blocked punt at the end of the first quarter led to the Titans' first touchdown. “So this is elation and relief. We needed this. We were really, really desperate for a win. The guys are happy, and we're gonna build on this.”
Tennessee's much-maligned defense, which had given up 181 points in the season's first five weeks showed up with a much more aggressive style than had been on display in previous games.
The Titans still gave up 363 yards passing to Ben Roethlisberger, but the run defense was solid, allowing Pittsburgh only 56 yards on the ground. And though the Titans only got one sack, they did manage to get an interception, three hurries and five passed defensed in turning in their best effort thus far of the season.
Tennessee led for much of the first half, taking a 16-10 lead into the locker room on Bironas' third field goal of the half, a 47-yarder as the second quarter expired.
But the Steelers roared back in the second half, putting up 13 unanswered points on Baron Batch's 1-yard run sandwiched between two Shaun Suisham field goals that gave Pittsburgh a 23-16 advantage with 8:18 to play. Suisham's last field goal came on a 52-yarder the boosted the Steeler lead to seven points following a Matt Hasselbeck interception.
But the Titans battled back and drove 80 yards on the ensuing possession. Tennessee tied the game when Hasselbeck hooked up with Kenny Britt on a 5-yard touchdown pass with 4:19 to play. Britt scored on the third-and-goal play after dropping a potential touchdown catch on second-and-goal.
“It gave me a confidence builder, and it helped me out,” said Britt that Hasselbeck would go right back to him following the incompletion.
Pittsburgh went back downfield and put itself in position to possibly win the game, reaching the Titans' 36 yard line when the drive stalled on a third-down incompletion. The Steelers elected to let Suisham try a 54-yard field goal with 54 seconds left. The kick was online; the only problem was that it landed about 49 yards – well short of the crossbar.
Tennessee took over and Hasselbeck found Jared Cook on third-and-5 from midfield for a 25-yard gain to put Bironas in position for the game-winner.
“It was an awesome call. It just so happened that they were in the coverage we wanted them to be in, so it worked perfectly,” Cook said. “They were in man coverage, and that's what we needed. I took it across the bottom and Matt found me. I took it toward the sideline, because I knew I had to get out (of bounds).”
From there, Bironas made the kick that ended Tennessee's three-game losing streak.
“We came out here tonight and did what we had to do. We've got to push on. We've got 10 games left, and it's far from over,” Bironas said.
The kicker provided plenty of Tennessee's offense early with two first quarter field goals. The problem was that the Steelers not only had a field goal of their own, but also got an 82-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace. Jason McCourty was beaten on the coverage, and Michael Griffin was unable to tackle Wallace as he strode into the end zone.
McCourty tried not to let the mistake bother him.
“A lot of guys were saying, 'Just keep playing.' I had a game in college where I got beat for a touchdown early, and it killed me for the rest of the game,” he said. “It affected how I played. I knew from that moment I would never let that happen again. You blew it, you made a mistake, but they made plays. I'm glad I was able to come back and make a few plays and help this team get the victory.”
Except for that play, though, the defense, which had been on a record pace for points surrendered, acquitted itself well.
“We came out here and played physical. We didn't listen to the outside, what everyone else was saying. We knew what we had to do, and that was play hard for four quarters,” rookie defensive tackle Mike Martin said.
While the defense held up its end, it was special teams, led by Tim Shaw, that ignited the Titans on Thursday night.
Shaw broke through the line and blocked Drew Butler's punt, where McCourty recovered it at the 1. From there, Jamie Harper punched in the touchdown that gave the Titans a 13-10 lead.
There were plenty of ups and downs for the Titans despite their valiant effort, and in the end, they managed to pull the game out and at least for now save their 2012 season.
“For now, it (saves the season) but we've still got a long season ahead of us. We've got to keep pushing and doing our thing,” Cook said.
Coach Mike Munchak, like the players, is hoping that Thursday's win can be the needed spark the Titans desperately needed.
“Beating Pittsburgh on a Thursday Night Football game is what we needed, Munchak said. “Hopefully, it will lead to other things.”
Cornerback Tommie Campbell was on crutches after the game due to a left ankle injury suffered in the first half.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey missed some time in the game with an undisclosed injury.