By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009
PITTSBURGH, Sept. 10 -- The new NFL season began just as last season ended, with the Pittsburgh Steelers making the big plays when it mattered the most to emerge with a narrow win. They beat the Tennessee Titans, 13-10, here Thursday night in the opening game of the season on kicker Jeff Reed's 33-yard field goal on the first possession of overtime.
"Such is life in the NFL," Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said. "We'll take the victory. ... Our guys hung in there."
The script was familiar for the Steelers. The defense did much of the heavy lifting. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and was sacked four times but completed 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown. One wide receiver, Santonio Holmes, had nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Another, Hines Ward, had eight catches for 103 yards.
But there were some twists, particularly when it appeared that the Steelers were about to win in regulation on a 30-yard completion from Roethlisberger to Ward.
Ward lost a fumble at the Tennessee 4-yard line with 51 seconds to play, however, and the Steelers had to go to overtime.
"I pride myself on being that guy not to make that mistake, especially with the game on the line," Ward said. "I saw the end zone."
Roethlisberger said he was "almost in disbelief" after Ward's fumble.
"When he caught it, I was like, 'There's our field goal. Game over,' " Roethlisberger said. "When he started running, I thought he was going to score. Hines doesn't ever get stopped inside the 5-yard line."
The Steelers rebounded, though, and never gave up possession after winning the coin toss in overtime.
The win was costly, as Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu exited late in the first half after hurting his left knee. Tomlin said he expects Polamalu to be sidelined for three to six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament.
But as Steelers safety Ryan Clark pointed out in the postgame locker room, the defending champs were better off being 1-0 and without Polamalu than being 0-1 and without him.
"Which position would you rather be in?" Clark said. "You win the game."
The game was played before the largest regular season crowd -- 65,110 -- to see a game at Heinz Field.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney was on hand for what will be a rare appearance for him this season, now that he's been named the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
"I told Mr. Rooney since he was back from Ireland and it's his only game, we wanted him to watch as much football as he could," Roethlisberger said. "So it went to overtime."
Even with the Steelers amassing some big numbers in the passing game, both defenses were in control most of the way.
"A win's a win," Roethlisberger said. "I struggled early. That's just jitters, excitement. I'm just really proud of the way we all bounced back."
The feeling was far different in the other locker room.
"It was a shame," Titans quarterback Kerry Collins said. "We let that one get away. But on the road against a good football team, if you make the mistakes we made tonight, you're going to lose more ballgames than you win. So it's disappointing. It's one of those things where you have to learn from it and move on. ... We were in a position to win that game. We just made too many mistakes and they made the plays when we needed to."