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Pittsburgh Steelers defeat Tennessee Titans, 13-10, in overtime

Jeff Reed's field goal wins it after a crucial fumble by Hines Ward in regulation.

September 11, 2009|Sam Farmer

PITTSBURGH — The knee of Troy Polamalu folded the wrong way, and the normally sure hands of Hines Ward lost their grip. But the Pittsburgh Steelers were not without options Thursday in the NFL opener.

They still had the poise of Ben Roethlisberger and the foot of Jeff Reed.

After Roethlisberger drove the Steelers into position, Reed clinched a 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans with a 33-yard field goal with 10 minutes 28 seconds remaining in overtime.

In a bruising and often sloppy debut -- one that could cost the Steelers star safety Polamalu for three weeks or longer -- Pittsburgh's quarterback showed flashes of the composure he displayed in last season's Super Bowl.

With no running game to speak of from the Steelers, Roethlisberger completed 17 of his last 19 passes against an outstanding defense to bring his team to the brink of victory.

"He was Ben," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. "When the rubber meets the road, he is at his best. In those moments, he sees it with great clarity. He's provided quality plays time and again."

It was the 18th time in the regular season Roethlisberger has overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to lead the Steelers to victory.

"I told the coach I didn't want to start this already," Roethlisberger joked, "these fourth-quarter comebacks."

It wasn't a perfect performance. Roethlisberger, who completed 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards, was sacked four times -- once for a 19-yard loss -- in part because of his reluctance to get rid of the ball.

Pittsburgh's offensive line bears some of that blame, frequently struggling with Tennessee's 4-3 scheme. The blocking problems really showed up in the run game, the Steelers' traditional strength, when the home team scratched out only 36 yards rushing.

"We had a lot of communication errors," tackle Willie Colon said. "We were kind of sloppy in the protection at times, and that's going to happen in the first game."

What the Steelers certainly didn't expect is to lose their star safety, whose leg bent awkwardly under the weight of Tennessee tight end Alge Crumpler. Polamalu suffered an injury to his left knee that could keep him on the sideline for a while. Tomlin deemed it a sprained medial collateral ligament -- although he said the scans were still being read -- and said the recovery time ranges from three to six weeks.

"It's all speculation at this point," the coach said.

It's not the first time Polamalu has dealt with such problems. A left knee injury kept him out for three consecutive games in 2006, and he missed five the next season in part because of an injured right knee.

In the first half Thursday, it was as if Polamalu was involved in every play, good and bad. Not only did he lead the team with six tackles and make a poster-worthy one-handed interception, but he was flagged for two personal fouls and a questionable pass interference.

Titans quarterback Kerry Collins conceded the landscape changed when Polamalu left, saying, "We definitely were aware of him not being in there."

But the Titans had their own concerns. They also lost a key player to a leg injury -- tight end Bo Scaife, who had five catches in the first half -- and blew two scoring opportunities when one field-goal attempt sailed wide and another was blocked.

"It was a shame," Collins said. "We let that one get away. But on the road, against a good football team, if you make the mistakes we made tonight, you're going to lose more ballgames than you win."

It looked as if the Steelers would win at the end of regulation, when Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Ward for a 30-yard gain over the middle. The Pro Bowl receiver was stripped just five yards from the end zone, however, and the Titans recovered at the four with 51 seconds left.

"I pride myself on being that guy not to make any mistakes, especially when the game is on the line," Ward said. "I saw the end zone. If I got down, then we don't even have to worry about the coin toss. . . .

"But what better way to start the year off than with our quarterback putting the team on his back, and J-Reed saving the day?"

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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