NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Quarterback Marcus Mariota was 22-0f-33 passing for 306 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions, ran for a score and was sacked five times when his Tennessee Titans (6-4) traveled to Pittsburgh for a nationally televised game against the Steelers (8-2).
“If you throw four interceptions, it’s tough to win,” Mariota said post-game. “A lot of credit to Pittsburgh, they made a bunch of plays and got the best of us.“
The Steeler defense made plays, to be sure, but it was Tennessee who could not seem to get it’s own way. The offense did enough to keep the Titans in the game game until late in the second half but a combination of untimely penalties, dropped passes, turnovers and mental miscues made it a matter of time before the effects snowballed.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown ran roughshod on the Tennessee in the defense in the second half due, in part, to the offense’s ability to sustain drives throughout the game. The Titans defense held the Steelers to a pair of field goals after the first two Mariota picks put them well into Tennessee territory but Roethlisberger’s unit scored on five consecutive drives in the second, third and fourth quarters, beginning with kicker Chris Boswell’s 50-yard field goal before halftime.
Just stop it, @AB84…
— NFL (@NFL) November 17, 2017
Roethlisberger threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns, three of which were caught by Brown.
“It was a disappointing loss,” said Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey. “We made too many critical mistakes against a good football team, a really good football team. Obviously, it caught up to us there in the second half. I feel like we had a slow start, responded and then kept coming back. We had opportunities to make it more of a game, and we just failed to do so. The dam kind of broke in the second half because of all of the mistakes.”
Pittsburgh marched 75 yards down the field in six plays on their opening possession. Roethlisberger completed four of his first five passes including a 41-yard dart to Brown on second-and-10 that the receiver took to for the first score of the day.
Mariota’s first interception put the Steelers at the Titans 24 but a facemask penalty for 15 yards on third-and-five gave the defense enough cushion to hold their opponent to a 41-yard Boswell field goal to widen the margin to 10.
Tennessee shook off the turnover and responded with an 11-play drive that kept Roethlisberger and company off the field for 6:36. Mariota led his teams 68 yards and further shouldered the load with his fourth rushing touchdown of the season to bring the total to 10-7. The Titans kept the score close by continuing to bleed clock into the second quarter on their next time out on offense but wasted a nine-play effort with a Ryan Succop 48-yard field goal attempt swatted by Watt (T.J., not J.J.).
Succop holds the NFL-record with 56 consecutive field goal makes inside the 50-yard line but the streak ended with a miss from 48 in a Week 10 home victory over the Cincinnati Bengals (3-6).
The two teams would hold serve with three consecutive three-and-out drives but on the ensuing Tennessee possession, former Titan cornerback Coty Sensabaugh jumped a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Corey Davis at the Pittsburgh 38 and returned the ball to the Tennessee 20-yard line. Davis was out of position on the play but Mariota starred the fifth-overall pick down the entire way to make it an easy read for the defender.
“The first one sailed on him. There’s no doubt on that,” Mularkey said of his quarterback. “(Mariota) could have used some help on the other ones, especially from some young guys. Some lessons learned from some young players.
“I hope (this game’s film)’s something we can learn from. There’s no better tape to teach from. I can tell you that. I think (the young guys) already knew the answer once the play was over, but now you have to sit live and get to have a discussion about it.”
But, still, the Titans defense held up. Defensive lineman Karl Klug sacked Roethlisberger for a six-yard loss to set the offense back at third-and-goal from the Tennessee 15 just after the two-minute warning. A five-yard loss caused by a false start on guard David DeCastro allowed for the defense again to hold firm and force a 28-yard kick from Boswell to keep the game within one score at 13-7.
But offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s unit gained no yards on their next outing and were off the field in three plays, allowing Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to effectively use his timeouts to give offensive coordinator Todd Haley eight plays to get Boswell into position for a 50-yard attempt to bring the tally to 16-7.
Pittsburgh benefited from a missed spot on a fumble by Brown that allowed them 10 additional yards to bring them withing striking range as time expired.
Roethlisberger found Brown for a 17-yard completions that Titans rookie Adoree’ Jackson jarred the ball loose as the receiver was streaking across the middle at the Tennessee 42. Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant made the recovery at the 32, and place-kicker Chris Boswell kicked the field goal from that spot four plays later.
According to ESPN.Com, Referee Ronald Torbert should have spotted the ball at the 42 — the original spot of Brown’s fumble — because of a rule established in 1979 that prohibits anyone other than the player who fumbled from advancing a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
“The spot was not correct,” said Mularkey. “The spot cost us a field goal. It cost momentum. It cost a lot of things…I didn’t argue with them. They agreed it was the wrong spot. I’ll be in trouble for that, but you know what, that’s the way it is. Say it like it is. Quit hiding things. It was the wrong spot, and it made a difference. We lost three points because of it.”
Mariota came out firing in the second, completing the longest touchdown pass of this career on the first play after halftime. The Heisman-winner hit receiver Rishard Matthews for 75 yards to 16-14.
Pittsburgh returned the favor on a 10-play, 75-yard run that ended with a five-yard Ben-to-Brown connection for six points. Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey was hit with a personal foul for roughing the passer on second-and-ten from the his team’s 31 that allowed the drive to extend and result in points, 23-14.
It took Tennessee’s offense eight plays to push 49 yards into Steeler territory in reciprocation. But Cam Heyward sacked Mariota for a loss of 15 on third-and-four and the Titans were forced to take three points from Succop’s 44-yard field goal and a score of 23-17. The Titans frustrations were compounded on that drive by a rare drop by tight end Delanie Walker that would have almost certainly gone for a touchdown to hold serve.
Succop’s make would be Tennessee’s last points scored in the contest. The Titans remaining drives resulted in a punt, two more interceptions and a kneel down to end the rout.
Up Next: The Titans will travel to Indianapolis on November 26th to take on the Colts (3-7)