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Steelers ride defense to big win at Tennessee

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Pittsburgh used a championship-worthy defensive performance and some early special-teams heroics to carry a struggling, injury-riddled offense to a win on the road in Nashville.

Steelers 19 – Titans 11
The Steelers were opportunistic offensively and stout defensively as they beat the Titans on the road 19-11. The Pittsburgh defense and special teams accounted for seven turnovers and a touchdown, but the offense contributed only 21 net passing yards on the day and lost key contributors in Dennis Dixon and Trai Essex to injuries.

Pittsburgh was slated to receive the ball first, but the offense never saw the field, as rookie WR took a reverse handoff on the opening kickoff and dashed to the endzone for an 89-yard touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Pittsburgh’s special teams forced and recovered a fumble on the Titans’ return, but a sack-fumble by Dennis Dixon gave the ball back to Tennessee. Vince Young and the Titans drove into the redzone on the ensuing drive, but the Steelers defense held its ground and forced Tennessee to settle for a 21-yard field goal. The Titans got another crack in the redzone on their next drive, but Troy Polamalu sent them packing with an interception in the endzone. The Steelers tacked on a field goal on the ensuing drive, but lost starting QB Dennis Dixon to an injury, forcing Charlie Batch to enter the game. The offense struggled, but Pittsburgh’s defense forced turnovers on two of the next three drives, setting up Jeff Reed for a 34-yard field goal and a 13-3 lead going into the half.

Both offenses struggled in the third quarter before a second forced fumble by OLB James Harrison gave Pittsburgh the ball in Titans territory. Batch led the offense into the redzone but had to settle for another field goal and a 16-3 lead. The Titans made a quarterback switch from Vince Young, who had four turnovers at that point, to Kerry Collins, but Collins turned the ball over on two of his first three drives and the Pittsburgh defense continued to swarm. A 27-yard field goal by Jeff Reed gave the Steelers a 19-3 lead before Collins and the Titans offense started clicking, leading the team to a touchdown by WR Nate Washington and cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 19-11 after a two-point conversion. Tennessee successfully executed an onside kick with less than a minute remaining, but failed in their late attempt to tie the game.

On the ground:
Rashard Mendenhall had a so-so day, rushing for 69 yards on 23 attempts with 3.0 average yards per carry. QB Dennis Dixon contributed 28 yards on three attempts before he left the game with a knee injury. Isaac Redman converted on his only short-yardage attempt.

Through the air: Dennis Dixon was the starter and was ineffective for most of the afternoon before leaving with a knee sprain early in the second quarter. Dixon finished the day 4-of-6 for only 18 yards and lost one fumble. Charlie Batch took over at quarterback for the rest of the game and wasn’t much better, completing 5 of his 11 passes for 25 yards, giving Pittsburgh just 21 yards through the air after accounting for sacks. Mike Wallace led all Steelers receivers with 25 yards on two catches.

While the offense struggled, the defense shined, pulling down six turnovers and holding the Titans to just three points on their first two redzone appearances before surrendering a touchdown late. James Harrison forced two fumbles on his two sacks. Troy Polamalu contributed a sack and an interception. LaMarr Woodley and Brett Kiesel both registered sack-fumbles with Woodley adding an interception. Bryant McFadden had an interception of his own. Lawrence Timmons forced a fumble on a sack and also led the team with 15 total tackles.

Antonio Brown took a reverse handoff on the opening kickoff and gave Pittsburgh an early lead with an 89-yard return touchdown. Rookie Stevenson Sylvester forced a fumble on the Titan’s first return which was recovered by special-teams-captain Keyaron Fox. Jeff Reed hit all four of his field goals as well as his only extra point attempt. Daniel Sepulveda was busy, nailing eight punts for a 43.5-yard average with a long of 59 yards.

The entire Pittsburgh defense, which put up one of the most dominant performances in recent memory and overcame a 127-yard day by the Steelers offense. The damage: four sacks, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, and three interceptions. The team also held 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson to just 34 yards on 16 carries.

The team travels south to take on a surprising 2-0 team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who dispatched Carolina with a 20-7 win on Sunday. The game will begin at 1:00PM and will be broadcast on CBS.

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