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Steelers offense explodes in 38-17 win over Titans

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Big Ben threw for a career-high five touchdowns to guide the Steelers to a 38-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans to move the defending AFC Champs above .500 once again. Pittsburgh outgained Tennessee 174-66 on the ground thanks to strongs effort by Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.

Maybe it was the return of locker room leader Max Starks. Maybe the team was just backed into a corner by a 2-2 start that saw the Steelers get pushed around by teams they used to roll over.

Or maybe this team just finally figured out how to bring out some of the old magic that powered Pittsburgh to three Super Bowl appearances in half a dozen seasons.

The Steelers ground game re-emerged as a driving force of the team’s offense as Ben Roethlisberger posted one of the quietest five-touchdown games you’ll see from an NFL quarterback.

Sunday’s contest against the Titans started in a similar fashion to that of a week four loss to the Texans, with the opponent driving downfield despite a rash of self-inflicted penalties.

This time, though, Pittsburgh’s defense held the fort, limiting Tennessee to a 29-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Antonio Brown’s 52-yard return on the ensuing kickoff allowed the Steelers to respond to that challenge as the offense chipped its way down the field en route to Ben’s first touchdown of the afternoon, an eight-yard toss to the ever-reliable Heath Miller.

With the defense keeping Tennessee at bay in the second quarter, Ben struck twice more. The hobbled quarterback found franchise-stalwart Hines Ward for a seven-yard score and followed that up with a roll-out dump-off to fullback Davis Johnson from a yard out.

The latter score was set up by a 76-yard run by backup runner Jonathan Dwyer on the first play of the drive. It also happened to be the team’s longest run since the 2006 season.

Roethlisberger’s only mistake came at the end of the first half – an interception that squashed Pittsburgh’s hopes of a fourth touchdown before the two teams headed into their respective locker rooms.

The defense continued to shine early in the third quarter, holding the Titans to a three-and-out which gave the ball back to the offense. Isaac Redman, who started in place of the injured Rashard Mendenhall, churned out the tough yards, allowing Big Ben to notch touchdown number four with a another short toss to Ward.

Down 28-3, Tennessee went to the air and passed its way down the field as time ran down in the third quarter. Running back Chris Johnson, who was limited to just 51 yards on the afternoon, capitalized on the drive’s only running play to score from  yard out and cut the lead to eighteen.

The Titans clearly had some momentum following the score, and managed to recover an onside kick. Pittsburgh’s defense swung the game back in its favor, though, as LaMarr Woodley pulled down an interception on a tipped pass on the very next play.

It looked as if Roethlisberger would grab his fifth score early in the fourth quarter, but the Titans’ defense held in the red zone and the Steelers settled for a 19-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham.

Tennessee would add seven more points with less than four minutes remaining in the quarter, with Matt Hasselbeck hitting Damian Williams in the endzone for a 19-yard touchdown.

Pittsburgh damaged Tennessee’s hopes of a miracle comeback by recovering another onside kick attempt and, three players later, Mike Wallace ended them with a 40-yard score – Roethlisberger’s fifth touchdown of the afternoon.

Injuries
James Farrior (shoulder), Heath Miller (shoulder), Maurkice Pouncey (knee), Hines Ward (chest), and Isaac Redman (cramps) all left the game with minor injuries but all are expected to be good-to-go for next week’s contest. Rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game with a shoulder injury and the team will monitor his condition during the week.

Through the Air
Big Ben was efficient all afternoon, especially in the red zone. Roethlisberger passed for just 228 yards, but completed over 70% of his passes with five touchdowns and, most importantly, just one turnover. Mike Wallace was his favorite receiver between the 20’s with six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown; Hines Ward was the man inside the 20, nabbing seven balls for 54 yards and two scores. Heath Miller and David Johnson each notched a touchdown.

On the Ground
Isaac Redman started in place of Rashard Mendenhall and churned his way to 49 yards on 15 carries. Backup Jonathan Dwyer was even better, racking up 107 yards on 11 carries which included a 76-yard sprint in the second quarter. Pittsburgh’s 174 yards against the Titans was nearly half of what the team gained in their first four games of the season.

Defense
LaMarr Woodley looked like his old self on Sunday, picking up a sack-and-a-half, pressuring the quarterback, and notching the team’s second turnover of the season with an interception of a pass tipped his way by Brett Keisel. Defensive end Ziggy Hood picked up half a sack and rookie Cam Heyward notched his first QB takedown (and forced fumble) of his career. James Farrior led the team with 13 total tackles, with Troy Polamalu not far behind at nine (to go with three passes defensed).

Special Teams
The highlight for the unit was a successful fake punt, with Daniel Sepulveda hitting safety Ryan Mundy for a 33-yard gain and a first down. The lowlight was a blocked punt in the fourth quarter, which would have gone for a Tennessee touchdown if not for another lucky penalty. On the one attempt where he wasn’t blocked or playing quarterback, Sepulveda booted a 48-yarder. Shaun Suisham hit one chip-shot field goal in the contest. Antonio Brown was strong as a return man, averaging 41.5 yards on his two kick returns.

Game Ball
How can it go to anyone but Ben? Five touchdowns is certainly game-ball worthy. If I had a silver second-place game ball to give out, it would go out to the offensive line, which allowed just one sack and powered the way for a surprisingly efficient running game.

Up Next
Pittsburgh will remain at the friendly confines of Heinz Field for the fourth and final game of their romp through the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) will come to town fresh off a 30-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Kickoff is at 1:00 PM and the game will be broadcast on CBS.

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