Steelers vs. Titans score: Pittsburgh rallies to rough up Tennessee, stays alive in AFC playoff race

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't dead yet. Despite another slow start, the Steelers rallied to defeat the Tennessee Titans while staying alive in the AFC playoff race. The 19-13 win put the Steelers back over .500 at 7-6-1. The Titans fell to 9-5 and are now just one game ahead of the Colts for first place in the AFC South, though they do hold the tiebreaker after beating Indy twice.

Down 13-3 at halftime, the Steelers scored 16 unanswered points behind three forced turnovers by their defense. The Titans' offense battled back with a late-game drive that featured several big runs by D'Onta Foreman, who picked a first down on a fourth-and-1 play. But on fourth-and-6 on the Steelers' 16-yard-line, Steelers cornerback Joe Haden stopped Titans receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine one yard short of the first down on a short throw by Ryan Tannehill. 

The Titans led 10-0 after 15 minutes of play. The quarter's only touchdown was a one-yard run by Tannehill following a 55-yard punt return by Chester Rogers. The Steelers got on the scoreboard by virtue of Chris Boswell's 36-yard field goal four minutes into the second quarter. The score was set up by Arthur Maulet's forced fumble off Anthony Firkser that was recovered by Minkah Fitzpatrick. Tennessee then put together a 19-play drive that took over 10 minutes off of the clock. The long drive ended with Randy Bullock's 32-yard field goal after Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt combined to sack Tannehill on third-and-goal. 

The Steelers cut their deficit to three points on Roethlisberger's one-yard touchdown run on Pittsburgh's second drive of the third quarter. The eight-play, 63-yard drive included Pittsburgh's first third-down conversion of the game on a five-yard completion from Roethlisberger to Pat Freiermuth on third-and-1.

Three consecutive forced fumbles by Pittsburgh's defense set up three Boswell field goals. The first turnover came when Joe Haden recovered Cam Sutton's forced fumble of Racey McMath in Tennessee territory. Boswell's go-ahead field goal with 7:20 left in the game was set up by Joe Schobert's interception off of a tipped pass from fellow linebacker Taco Charlton. Boswell's 48-yarder with 4:29 left was the product of T.J. Watt's recovery of Tannehill's fumbled snap. 

The Titans then drove to the Steelers' 16-yard-line before Derrek Tuszka sacked Tannehill on second down. Tannehill completed a short pass on third down before Haden stopped Westbrook-Ikhine from getting the extra yard needed for a first down. 

Here's a deeper breakdown of what transpired in Pittsburgh. 

Why the Steelers won

It's hard to lose when your defense forces four turnovers, as was the case on Sunday. Each of Boswell's four field goals were byproducts of turnovers forced by Pittsburgh's defense. The Steelers' defense also held the Titans to 1 of 4 red zone efficiency that included their stop on Tennessee's final possession. 

The Steelers' offense left a lot to be desired, but they didn't turn the ball over, which proved to be the difference in Sunday's game. 

Why the Titans lost 

Turnovers and lack of red zone execution spoiled an impressive performance by the Titans' defense. The turnovers also spoiled a stellar performance from running back Foreman, who ran for 108 yards on 23 carries. 

An overlooked moment in Sunday's game was Titans' 10-minute drive in the second quarter. Instead of punctuating the drive with a touchdown, the Titans were forced to settle for a field goal after Tannehill was sacked by Heyward and Watt. Speaking of sacks, the Titans allowed four sacks of Tannehill, who has now been sacked 41 times this season. 

Penalties also cost the Titans, particularly two defensive penalties on the Steelers' only touchdown drive and a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Steelers' game-tying drive. 

Turning point 

Roethlisberger's third-down completion to Freiermuth (which ended up gaining 20 yards following an unnecessary roughness penalty) sparked a 63-yard scoring drive that was punctuated by Roethlisberger's first rushing touchdown of the season. Pittsburgh's defense then forced three consecutive turnovers that led to three Boswell field goals. 

Play of the game 

Haden's fourth-down tackle essentially ended the game. Haden played well in his first game back from injury, as the 12-year veteran also came up with the Steelers' first of three consecutive turnovers in the second half. 

Receiving honorable mention is Schobert's pick off of Charlton's tipped pass. Schobert also came up with a critical forced fumble near the end of Pittsburgh's Week 8 win in Cleveland. 

Quotable 

"Field positioning in a game like that is real. They won the battle of field position in the first half, primarily because of our punt team, the ineffectiveness of our punt team. We won it in the second half because of the turnover game and really it's probably the difference in the game. So the turnover game was significant." -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin 

"I think the majority of the calls in this game was complete BS. ... The [Steelers' touchdown drive was] fueled by penalties. The rest of the game, I felt like our defense was flying around, playing with speed." -- Titans safety Kevin Byard on the officiating. 

Records set 

Roethlisberger passed Philip Rivers for fifth all-time in career passing yards on a three-yard completion to Dionate Johnson during the second quarter. Watt broke James Harrison's franchise single-season sack record with his 1.5-sack effort. Watt now has 17.5 sacks on the season, breaking Harrison's mark of 16 sacks set during his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2008. 

What's next 

The Steelers will head to Kansas City for a 4:25 kickoff next Sunday, Dec. 26. Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes combined to throw for 778 yards and nine touchdowns during their first matchup back in 2018. The Titans will return to Nashville to host the 49ers on Thursday night. 

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Foreman back in the game and picks up a first down. 

December 19, 2021, 8:57 PM
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Crazy atmosphere. Chants of defense, two teams fighting for playoff spots. December football at its finest. 

December 19, 2021, 8:56 PM
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Officials escorting Highsmith off the field for some reason. 

December 19, 2021, 8:55 PM
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Foreman quickly gets the Titans in Steelers territory before leaving the game with trainers. 

December 19, 2021, 8:53 PM
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Third straight turnover for the Titans, this one a fumbled snap that was picked up T.J. Watt, who receives "MVP" chants from the Heinz Field crowd. 

December 19, 2021, 8:45 PM
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Steelers collect their third turnover of the game. Taco Charlton tipped the ball and the Steelers' offense is in business. 

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