PITTSBURGH — Despite 363 yards passing by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 33 of 43 throws Thursday night in a 13-10 overtime victory, the Tennessee Titans defensive line answered many of the questions about how it would do sans Albert Haynesworth.
Haynesworth left for the Washington Redskins as a free agent in the off-season for a $100 million contract, leaving many to ask if the Titans defensive line could be as effective without him.
The Titans sacked Roethlisberger four times and intercepted him twice in the game, and laid some hard shots on the quarterback including one where Jevon Kearse came in unblocked to level him.
Also, the defensive line spearheaded a strong effort against the run, holding Pittsburgh to just 36 yards on the ground on 23 attempts.
Jason Jones had one of the four sacks, a 21-yard loss thanks to Roethlisberger’s constant backpedaling and his own second effort. Jones now has 4.5 sacks of Roethlisberger in two games against him.
“I busted through the line, and my eyes got big as heck. I knew I had him on that play, but Ben is a big guy,” Jones said. “He’s 6-6 and he’s very elusive to be so big. All week, we said, keep rushing, keep rushing.”
As for replacing Haynesworth, Jones and the defense have already moved on.
“Who’s Albert? Albert who? That’s all it is Albert who. I think we’re going to be done answering questions about Albert,” Jones said. “That’s in the past. He’s with Washington now, so good luck to him.”
Linebacker Keith Bulluck agreed with that assessment after the defensive line’s efforts.
“Actually, we shouldn’t get those questions anymore,” Bulluck said. “I think we did a great job of snuffing out the run, and the defensive line did a tremendous job getting the sacks and getting pressure on Roethlisberger and also making plays. We can put that to rest.”
Added defensive tackle Tony Brown, who manned Haynesworth’s right defensive tackle spot, “I think we kind of shut that up.”
Nate Washington’s return to Pittsburgh was bittersweet.
Washington, who left the Steelers this past off-season for a six-year, $27 million contract with the Titans, managed to play on his injured right hamstring, but had just one catch for 8 yards in limited work against his former team.
“I felt great. The thing tonight with the coaching staff was they just wanted to take precaution,” Washington said. “Being as I hadn’t practiced too much and I didn’t have any legs up under me, they just wanted to take precaution, and when I did have the opportunity to get in there, I just did the best I can.”
The most important thing health-wise is that Washington did not appear to do any further damage to the hamstring with his earlier than expected return.
“I feel great. I will continue to rehab, but as far as any injury, I feel great tonight,” Washington said.
The Titans had scheduled Washington for about 20 to 25 plays in the game, and wound up needing as many weapons as they could find, given that rookie tight end/receiver Jared Cook missed the game with an ankle injury, and that Tennessee lost tight end Bo Scaife to a knee injury in the third quarter.
To add injury to insult, Scaife was injured on a play where he lost a fumble near the sidelines on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Scaife was hit by reigning NFL Defensive MVP James Harrison after a catch at the Pittsburgh 41. Keyaron Fox picked up the fumble for the Steelers and had a five-yard return.
The veteran tight end was limping badly in the locker room after the game, and indications are Scaife probably suffered some sort of sprain to his left knee. His status for the Titans home opener against the Houston Texans is uncertain.
Scaife was enjoying a big night until the fumble and injury. He had five catches for 48 yards.
Speaking of injuries, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his club could lose All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu for three to six weeks with a sprained MCL in his knee, suffered in the second quarter after a collision in the pile with Titans tight end Alge Crumpler.
“It is an MCL sprain,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “They are reading the scans and so forth. Those things have a range of three-to-six [weeks].”
Rookie receiver Kenny Britt enjoyed a strong debut for the Titans, catching four passes for 85 yards, including a 57-yard catch near the end of the first half that set up the Titans only touchdown. Britt also had a nice catch dragging both feet along the sideline for the reception.
“One thing they stress to me is to just go out there and play, because when you’re on the field, you’re not a rookie anymore,” Britt said. “They kept my head in the game and made sure that I know where I am.”
Quarterback Kerry Collins came away impressed with the first-round pick.
“I thought Kenny Britt did a great job,” Collins said. “We asked him to do a lot tonight, and I thought he really responded.”
About the only real mistake Britt had came on the Collins interception where he got behind Troy Polamalu, but didn’t come back for the underthrown ball.
“I misread the ball … I need to make a play on the ball, but it was a great catch and play. I actually thought he had batted it. It was a great catch. It was a rookie mistake, but it needs to be if I can’t get it, then nobody gets it,” Britt said.
With the ankle injury keeping rookie Ryan Mouton out of the lineup, Cortland Finnegan handled punt returns and Javon Ringer worked on kickoffs. The results were lukewarm.
Ringer averaged 19.7 yards on three kickoffs, while Finnegan had a bit of a tough night fielding punts.
He had four returns for 14 yards, muffing a third quarter punt from Daniel Sepulveda, but recovering at his own 5. Another punt rolled past him and was downed at the 2.
“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is I am not your future returner,” Finnegan said. “The bad news is I lost about 30 yards in field position, and that’s unacceptable.
“They believe in me to do that, regardless of whether I’ve done it or not and I didn’t do a good job. That’s the good news and bad news of it.”
Mouton could take over the punt return duties, or the Titans could scan the free agent market for a return man. Former Titan Bobby Wade was released Thursday by the Minnesota Vikings.
Speaking of free agents, the possibility remains that the Titans could sign Matt Jones, though he is not a return man.
Inactives for the season opener included Cook, Mouton, running back Chris Henry, receiver Lavelle Hawkins, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and defensive end Dave Ball. Patrick Ramsey was the third quarterback.
Steelers inactives were cornerback Joe Burnett, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, center Kraig Urbik, tackle Tony Hills, receiver Shaun McDonald, defensive end Nick Eason and injured linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Dennis Dixon was the third quarterback.