NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With tension mounting and faith fading, the Titans eased the first and solidified the second with a surprise 26-23 victory over the Steelers at LP Field on Thursday night.
“Everything we needed to do in this one game we did,” coach Mike Munchak said.
“We knew all along that we were more talented than we were putting on tape,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “And it’s up to us to show that.”
They created ample opportunity to show it in this one and hope the result will have a lasting impact. The schedule finally eases when the Titans return to action on Oct. 21 in Buffalo.
They get a long weekend as a reward, and a long weekend during the season can feel like another win.
Out of this entertaining game, I thought there were mini-stories of different degrees of redemption for three guys -- one from each phase.
McCourty: Shortly after Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace raced open deep to collect an 82-yard touchdown pass, I tweeted, “That’s a lot of money that pass was completed over,” referring to McCourty and safety Michael Griffin, players who recently got big new deals from the Titans.
McCourty’s twin brother, Devin, a defensive back for the Patriots, didn’t love the tweet and we went back and forth a bit about it. Someone else smartly pointed out to me that the Ben Roethlisberger-Wallace combination is also worth quite a bit of money.
“It was all me,” McCourty said at his locker after the game of the coverage on the play. “It was all me. That’s the NFL, you know? I’ve got to play that play better no matter what goes on the rest of the game. I can’t let him get behind me.”
“But it was the first quarter. There was a lot more football to play.”
He remembered a game at Rutgers where he gave up a big play early and let it affect him the rest of the way, after which he pledged not to let that happen again.
On this night, he rebounded to be opportunistic in two big spots: recovering a punt blocked by teammate Tim Shaw at the Steelers’ 1-yard line and intercepting a Roethlisberger pass for Antonio Brown at the Titans’ 32-yard line with 1:31 left before halftime, eliminating the possibility of a Steelers score while setting his team on course for a field goal.
“Being able to bounce back, I think it was a little bit encouraging for the other guys on defense,” he said. “It kind of gave those guys faith in me and belief that I could still get the job done.”
Receiver Kenny Britt: There was the torn anterior cruciate ligament early last season; the clean-up surgery in the summer and the scope of the other knee before camp; an arrest at a military base on a DUI charge and the resulting one game-suspension; and, then, an early-season ankle injury.
Britt knows patience for him has been running out. He impressed coaches last week with a surprising rehab push with the ankle Saturday and a request to play Sunday, though he didn’t do great work in the loss to the Vikings.
He didn’t do great work against the Steelers, either. The first 10 times Matt Hasselbeck threw to him, he managed three catches.
“I believe this was one of the worst games I ever had in my career,” Britt said. “There were plays that I could have made.”
Particularly bothersome to him was a dropped slant that he tried to body-catch.
With 4:30 left in the game and the Titans down a touchdown, Hasselbeck threw to Britt in the front left corner of the end zone. He had it for an instant, but cornerback Ike Taylor went for a high tackle that wound up pulling Britt’s helmet off, and the ball slipped out.
The Titans decided to go back to the very same play.
“I was excited about that,” Britt said. “The DB (Taylor, again) had his hand in my face at the very last second, and the ball came in quick and it popped up and gave me a second chance to catch the ball.”
Britt's grab tied the score at 23 and kept the Titans alive.
Kicker Rob Bironas: His 22-yard field goal on the Titans’ first possession hit the right upright but squirted through. He said he jumped the snap and got to the ball a little early. He also hit from 38 and 47 before the game wound up on his leg with four seconds showing and the Titans in position for a 40-yard attempt.
He nailed it against the team he thought he would be playing for back in 2004 when the Steelers provided reason for him to think he’d won a training-camp fight with Jeff Reed.
“I played in the fourth preseason game, hit maybe four field goals, four or five touchbacks,” he said. “I got player of the game in the fourth game and usually you don’t play at all in the fourth game if you’re just a camp guy.
“The coaches were telling me, ‘See you Monday,’ and it was a good situation, I thought. But Jeff Reed’s a good kicker, he’s still a good kicker. I didn’t beat him out.”
Bironas was the last guy cut and had a season with New York of the Arena League before another chance at the top arrived.
Thursday, the team that almost gave him his break watched his 40-yarder sail through to hand it a loss as time expired. For Bironas, it was the 11th game-winning kick of his career, the most ever for an Oiler or Titan.
“I thought I finally made it (with the Steelers). I thought I finally broke in, but I didn’t,” Bironas said, looking back. “I wound up here in Tennessee after another arena season. Things are going well. I’m still here now.”