At 1-4 entering Thursday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Tennessee Titans needed a win to keep any realistic hopes they had for making the postseason alive. Thanks to 290 yards passing from Matt Hasselbeck, 91 yards rushing from Chris Johnson and four field goals from Rob Bironas, including one from 40 yards out as time expired, the Titans did just that, improving to 2-4 with a 26-23 win over the heavily favored Steelers.
Bironas kicked three first-half field goals that combined with a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamie Harper, which was set up by a blocked punt by Tim Shaw, gave the Titans a 16-10 lead at the half. The Steelers would rally in the third quarter, with Shaun Suisham capping off an 11-play, 65-yard drive with a 28-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Second-year running back Baron Batch closed out a 15-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Steelers ahead 20-16 and Suisham would add a 52-yard field goal with 8:18 to play to extend the lead to seven points.
Hasselbeck led the Titans on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended when he hit wide receiver Kenny Britt for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The Steelers responded by driving down to the Titans' 36-yard line, but Suisham's 54-yard field-goal attempt with 54 seconds remaining in regulation fell short. Following a 5-yard completion to Johnson and an incomplete pass to Nate Washington, Hasselbeck hit tight end Jared Cook on a 5-yard crossing route that Cook would extend to a 25-yard gain, giving the Titans a new set of downs well within Bironas' range for the game-winning field goal.
2012 first-round pick Kendall Wright was the Titans' leader with six receptions for 71 yards, but Britt was clearly Hasselbeck's preferred target, a carryover from their productive connection at the start of the 2011 season. Britt was targeted a team-high 11 times on Thursday night, catching four passes for 62 yards as Hasselbeck kept going back to him despite the star receiver's struggles with dropped passes. Britt even bobbled the game-tying touchdown pass, one play after dropping a touchdown pass on a well-thrown back shoulder fade.
Britt discussed his dropped touchdown with Alex Flanagan of the NFL Network.
"I went to tuck it and the ball went straight through my arms," Britt said. "And that's something I'm going to work on this week … We've got to work on the things that we left out there on the field and get better."
With the loss, the Steelers dropped to 2-3 and will have an extended layoff before traveling to the Cincinnati Bengals for a prime-time game on Oct. 21. Compounding the loss for the Steelers are injuries to several key members of the offense. Starting center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a right leg injury on the opening play of the game and right tackle Marcus Gilbert injured his right ankle in the second quarter, leaving the Steelers without a spare offensive lineman on the bench.
The Steelers were also without running back Rashard Mendenhall, who suffered an Achilles' injury and his return was listed as questionable by the team. Mendenhall, who underwent ACL surgery in January, had 68 yards rushing with 33 yards receiving and a touchdown in his 2012 debut in Sunday's 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Steelers also lost Isaac Redman to a leg injury, as well, with led to the team rushing for just 56 yards on the night. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would pass for 363 yards on Thursday night, surpassing Terry Bradshaw to become the franchise's all-time leader in passing yards. Roethlisberger entered the game with 27,703 yards passing, 286 behind Bradshaw despite playing in 50 fewer games. Roethlisberger eclipsed the mark on a 10-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders on the final play of the third quarter.