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Sunday, December 21, 2008
Rapid Reaction: Titans 31, Steelers 14

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The AFC road to Super Bowl XLIII officially comes through Music City.

At least for a while, the Titans have quieted those who've been critical of their schedule and insistent that they peaked too early. They are the conference's No. 1 seed.

They played a fantastic and complete game today, pushing around a team regarded as the league's most physical and moved the ball against a defense that's been talked about as an all-time great unit. Steelers fans who infiltrated Nashville were sitting on their Terrible Towels in the fourth quarter as the Titans delivered the knockout punches.

Tennessee forced four turnovers and was uncharacteristically aggressive on offense, going for it twice on fourth down and converting both times. Without star defensive linemen Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Titans still harassed Ben Roethlisberger enough to have a big influence on the outcome of the game.

Rookie Jason Jones, who stepped into Haynesworth's starting spot, had a monster showing with 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

The Titans topped 300 yards of offense, halting Pittsburgh's streak of 14 consecutive games holding opponents under that mark. The Steelers have to settle for a tie with the 1973 Rams in that department.

The last three Super Bowl champions didn't have a bye and started out on the road. That's fine for other coaches to tell their teams for inspiration, but Fisher can tell his team this: We have given ourselves the easiest possible route to Tampa Bay. With a win Jan. 10 or 11 in a divisional round game, Tennessee will host the AFC Championship Game for the first time.

With an irrelevant finale at Indianapolis next week, the Titans have wins over second-seed Pittsburgh and the fifth-seeded Colts.

Don't expect Jeff Fisher to kill momentum by resting many people next week, when Tony Dungy will definitely hold out a bunch of key people and pull others very early.