Anyone who thought the Tennessee Titans did not have a prayer against the Pittsburgh Steelers — no doubt that number was a big one — would have been surprised to see Rob Bironas in the locker room afterward.
A rosary hung around the neck of the veteran kicker as he discussed his 40-yard field goal that was the difference in a 26-23 victory Thursday in the prime-time contest. The game-winning kick was the 11th of his career (a franchise record) and was the last bit of a bounty that fulfilled the beseechings of those at LP Field who simply wanted a reason to cheer for the home team. Less than a minute earlier Pittsburgh’s Sean Suisham came up short on a 54-yard attempt that would have put his team in front.
“I was just out there trying to do everything like I always do and not even worry about it,” Bironas said. “We have a lot of good players with heart. We need to move off this with momentum going forward.”
Divine intervention is an easy explanation for the outcome of a game in which the Titans trailed by seven midway through the fourth quarter, gave up the game’s first touchdown on an 82-yard pass play and allowed more than 400 yards of total offense for the fourth time in five games.
Actually, though, it had more to do with the humanity of both teams — specifically the frailty of the Steelers and the competitiveness of Tennessee’s players and coaches, who refused to accept the label of one of the NFL’s worst teams.
The Titans are still 2-4, but they showed they can play physically, create game-changing plays and make the most of the time available to them even as it ran short.
“Even when we beat Detroit, we weren’t playing that well,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “In this game we made plays in all three phases. It doesn’t change that we’re 2-4 but that’s where we’re at it’s not who we are.”
Jared Cook’s 25-yard reception was the key play in the game-winning drive, which covered 33 yards and used up the final 49 seconds of the contest. Bironas also kicked a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, which made it 16-10 and capped a 10-play, 59-yard drive.
McCourty’s first interception of the season set up the drive at the start of the second half, and Tim Shaw’s blocked punt on the final play of the first quarter led to Jamie Harper’s 1-yard touchdown run two plays later.
“We know it’s only one win, but it’s a great win,” coach Mike Munchak said. “It’s one we needed badly, as we all know. … I’m just real happy we stepped up and made plays throughout the game when we had to. … Things like that throughout the game were what good teams do and what we hadn’t been doing.”
On top of that, the Titans battered the Steelers to the point that more than half of Pittsburgh’s starting offensive line failed to finish the contest. Center Maurkice Puncey went after one play with a leg injury. Right guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert were helped off later as were two running backs.
Tennessee, on the other hand, ran for 94 yards, including 91 (on 19 carries) by beleaguered running back Chris Johnson.
“You go out there and make plays and show everybody what type of team you are — that you are not coming out there to let them run us over,” Johnson said. “We are going to try and compete in every game we’re in. I feel like everybody on offense and defense stepped up and made plays when we had to.”
Titans players now have the weekend off to do as they please and enjoy a victory that was a long time coming.
With no game to play, some might even find their way to church on Sunday.