Backup linebacker Rocky Boiman scored on an interception return and sacked Tommy Maddox for a safety and Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins caught touchdown passes as the Titans beat the Steelers for the third time in less than a year, 30-13 Sunday.
As for the rest?
Eddie George averaged less than a yard per run, Derrick Mason made only one catch and Jevon Kearse had only one sack, but the Titans overwhelmed the mistake-prone Steelers with a combination of backups and big plays.
Other than McNair, who had more scoring passes (3) than incompletions (1), the Steelers were asking themselves: Who were those guys?
"Nothing against them, but you never go into a game thinking Drew Bennett and Justin McCareins, you've got to stop them," linebacker Joey Porter said. "It was those role players who kept making big plays."
Players such as safety Tank Williams, who partially blocked Jeff Reed's missed 30-yard field goal attempt and hurried Maddox into throwing the interception Boiman returned 59 yards for a touchdown, putting the Titans up by 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Boiman also sacked Maddox for a safety with the Steelers up 10-0, a play that began the Titans' turnaround and led to McNair's 10-yard touchdown pass to Bennett. Boiman played extensively only because starting linebacker Peter Sirmon injured his back during Pittsburgh's opening drive, a 16-play possession that ended with Reed's 26-yard field goal.
Until Sunday, Boiman had only a half-sack and no interceptions in his two-season career.
"That's what it takes to win sometimes, backups making plays like that," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Steelers led 10-0 before the Titans had a first down and outgained them 376-198, but three costly Maddox mistakes were turned into Titans scores.
The biggest may have come with the Steelers driving in the final minute of the first half. Samari Rolle jumped in front of Plaxico Burress for an interception he returned 49 yards to the Steelers' 1, and McNair hit Erron McKinney for the touchdown two plays later. Suddenly, the Titans had a 16-13 lead they never lost.
"We gave a good team 16 points and got beat by 17. I think that sums it up," Maddox said.
McNair didn't make mistakes, going 15-of-16 for 161 yards, and now has eight touchdown passes and only one interception this season. The Titans (3-1) beat the Steelers (2-2) for the 10th time in 12 games, including a 34-31 playoff victory in January.
Maybe Porter should have remembered McCareins from that game, when he make two key catches on the Titans' decisive overtime scoring drive.
McNair is 10-3 against the Steelers, throwing 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Coach Jeff Fisher is 11-6 against them -- easily the best record of any opposing AFC coach against the Steelers' Bill Cowher. The Titans also have won four of five in Pittsburgh.
In a game of contrasts -- the Steelers dominated the first half while the Titans controlled the second half -- the one constant was Maddox's penchant for committing a key mistake at the worst time.
With the Titans still up 16-13 in the third quarter, Williams' field-goal block led to McCareins' 29-yard touchdown catch, Later, Williams came out of the secondary to hit Maddox just as he was throwing, and Boiman turned the hastily thrown pass into a touchdown and a 30-13 lead.
Maddox (31-of-47, 332 yards) is 0-3 against the Titans, starting with the 31-23 loss at Tennessee on Nov. 27 when he was temporarily paralyzed by a Keith Bulluck hit.
"It's frustrating," Maddox said. "I thought we should have won two of them."
The Titans had run only three plays from scrimmage when the Steelers led 10-0 on Amos Zereoue's 5-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Asked how the Steelers could dominate for so long and lose, guard Alan Faneca said, with a perplexed look, "I'm wondering myself what the hell just happened out there."
- The Steelers have seven turnovers in their two losses and two in their two victories.
- The loss wasn't the Steelers' worst since moving into Heinz Field in 2001. The Texans beat them 24-6 last season despite getting only three first downs.
- The Steelers had 25 first downs to Tennessee's nine.
- Hines Ward moved into second place in Steelers history with 361 career catches.
- Pittsburgh had 69 yards rushing against the NFL's top-ranked run defense and has only 181 yards rushing in its last three games against Tennessee.
The Associated Press News Service
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