- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Jeff Reed kicked a 33-yard field goal 4:32 into overtime, and the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers again relied on Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to lead clutch scoring drives to beat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in the NFL season opener Thursday night.

The Steelers, their running game stuffed by Tennessee’s defense, didn’t get going until Roethlisberger began repeatedly finding Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward downfield. Roethlisberger went 33-for-43 for 363 yards, with Holmes - the Super Bowl star - making nine catches for 131 yards and Ward, despite a potentially costly fumble, making eight for 103.

The Titans lost the coin toss to start the overtime and never saw the ball again. Roethlisberger, who also led a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, hit Ward for 11, Holmes for 11 and rookie Mike Wallace for 22. Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on first down to win it.

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu injured his left knee late in the first half and did not return. Polamalu was injured when a Titans player fell on him as Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith blocked a 31-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas.

Pittsburgh looked ready to win it late in regulation when Roethlisberger, so adept at running the two-minute offense, took advantage of good field position created by a shanked Craig Hentrich punt to find Ward on a 30-yard completion to the Tennessee 4. But as Ward was trying to muscle his way closer to the goal line, Michael Griffin stripped the ball and Stephen Tulloch recovered with less than a minute remaining.

Even with no running game to support him, Roethlisberger had one of the biggest games of his career. Tennessee’s Kerry Collins, usually the caretaker of a run-first offense, was 22-for-35 for 244 yards after having only four games of 200 yards or more last season.

The Titans never led until Bironas, who had missed twice from inside the 40, connected from 45 yards with 11:03 remaining. Collins kept the drive moving with 15-yard completions to rookie Kenny Britt and Justin Gage.

The Steelers tied it on Reed’s 32-yarder with 2:57 to go but only after Mewelde Moore was held to 1 yard on two plays. Reed, under pressure, barely got off a low line drive that squeezed through the uprights.

Roethlisberger was 7-for-7 for 57 yards on the drive, but the Steelers’ lack of a running game again caused a drive to stall after they had a second-and-2 at the 10.

The Titans were the last team to beat the Steelers, winning 31-17 on Dec. 21 to gain home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, but they never won again, and the Steelers never lost again. Still, Steelers’ fans remembered how LenDale White, Keith Bulluck and several Titans players stomped all over Terrible Towels at the end of the game, and it created anticipation for a rematch that appeared likely to occur in January but didn’t.

Instead, this game appeared to be a throwback not to last season but to the 1970s, when the Titans’ predecessors, the Oilers, twice met and lost to the Steelers and their famed Steel Curtain defense in the AFC title game.

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