Ben Roethlisberger played hurt, but it was the Tennessee Titans who felt the pain of defeat.
Tennessee allowed a season-high in points before halftime and twice threatened — albeit briefly — in the second half after big special teams plays in a 38-17 defeat Sunday at Heinz Field.
It was the Titans’ first loss since the opener and their largest margin of defeat since Dec. 25, 2009, at San Diego (25 points). Pittsburgh’s point total was its highest in the series since the Titans relocated to Middle Tennessee and the most since a 40-28 victory over the then-Houston Oilers on Sept. 18, 1983.
“We wanted to go into the bye week 4-1 ... and hopefully get momentum coming out of the bye week,” running back Chris Johnson said. “Having this loss is going to be really tough. We have to think about this loss for two weeks straight, just until we can get back on the field and get a victory. It will be kind of tough.”
Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback, played with a sprained foot but threw five touchdown passes, including two to wide receiver Hines Ward, after having thrown just three in the first four weeks of the season. The last went 40 yards to Mike Wallace with 2:39 remaining.
The Titans came into the week first in the NFL in scoring defense.
“They just came out prepared, they came out and did what they’re supposed to do,” linebacker Akeem Ayers said. “We just didn’t do the things that we needed to do. I put it more on us. I won’t say it was so much of them coming out and dominating. It was more of us just not doing what we’re supposed to do."
Johnson’s first touchdown of the season — a 1-yard run — got Tennessee within 14 points, 24-10, with 2:06 remaining in the third quarter.
A successful onsides kick created the opportunity to close the gap further but Matt Hasselbeck’s pass on the next play was tipped and intercepted. Pittsburgh then took 6:09 off the clock and drove 53 yards to set up Sean Suisham’s 19-yard field goal.
A penalty for an illegal block negated Cortland Finnegan’s fourth-quarter touchdown return on a blocked punt. The Titans finally turned that into points — and got within 14 again — 10 plays and 2:55 later on Hasselbeck’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams.
The Steelers recovered the onside kick following that score. Three plays later, Roethlisberger hit Wallace for his final touchdown.
Pittsburgh had its own special teams moment early in the second quarter with a successful fake punt. Punter Daniel Sepulveda completed a pass to defensive back Ryan Mundy for 33 yards and set up Ward’s first touchdown catch, which put the Titans in a 14-3 hole.
“It was a chance for us to get off the field and get our offense the ball,” Ayers said. “After that, the momentum switched and they scored point after point.”
Johnson finished with 51 yards on 14 carries but was pulled late in the contest when he experienced tightness in his hamstring. Hasselbeck completed 29 of 49 passes for 262 yards. Williams finished with a team-high six catches for 66 yards.
Tennessee gave up a season-high 431 total yards and was outgained by 125.
“We just didn’t play well,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We gave up big plays in the beginning of the game and in all three phases, and that’s what happens when you give it up to a good team like this on the road.”