Instead, their hopes of a statement win here at Heinz Field flickered out because of turnovers, mistakes and a defense that struggled to slow down Pittsburgh’s playmakers.
The result was an ugly 40-17 loss to the Steelers.
“It’s a disappointing loss obviously,’’ Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “We made too many mistakes against a good football team. Obviously it caught up to us there in the second half. … The dam kind of broke in the second half because of all the mistakes.”
The Titans saw their four-game winning streak snapped as they fell to 6-4. They’re now a half-game behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 22 of 32 passes for 306 yards in the contest. But he was intercepted four times, and sacked five times. Mariota blamed himself after the contest, but Mariota’s teammates and Mularkey had his back. His targets could have done more, Mularkey said.
The Titans also hurt themselves with a dropped touchdown pass, a slow start, and an inability to get key stops on defense.
“If you throw four interceptions it is tough to win,” Mariota said. “A lot of credit to Pittsburgh, they made a bunch of plays and got the best of us tonight.
“(The interceptions) are on me. When it comes down to it, I am the one that makes the decision to throw, and just bad decisions. I have to do a better job if it’s not there to either tuck it away, or throw it out of bounds.”
Things looked good at the start of the second half, as the Titans scored on the first play. A 75-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to receiver Rishard Matthews, who eluded two defenders after catching the ball deep downfield, cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 16-14. It was the longest touchdown pass of Mariota’s career.
But the Steelers answered back with a 10-play, 75-yard drive, which was capped off with a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Antonio Brown. It extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 23-14 with 10:01 left in the third quarter.
And the Steelers kept coming, and they kept scoring.
“Give credit to them,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “They kicked our butts in the second half. … Any time you give up 40 points it falls back on the defense. We just have to be a better second half team and learn from this.”
The Titans had their moments. But the team lost momentum despite getting a 44-yard field goal from kicker Ryan Succop, which made it 23-17 with 5:44 left in the third quarter. That’s because the usually sure-handed Delanie Walker dropped a would-be touchdown pass while standing in the end zone late in the drive.
“I have to catch that ball,” Walker said. “That hurt the team, and I feel terrible about that.”
After that, the Steelers put together two long drives to extend their lead. A one-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James capped off a 12-play, 75-yard drive, and made it 30-17. The Steelers added another touchdown drive – and capped it off with a 10-yard touchdown catch by Brown – to take a 37-17 lead with 12:12 left in the contest.
Roethlisberger completed 30 of 45 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns in the contest. The Titans had a hard time defending Brown, who finished the game with 10 catches for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
Matthews finished the game with five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown for the Titans.
The Titans got off to a bad a start on both sides of the football.
The Steelers scored a touchdown on their first possession on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown, which capped a six-play, 75-yard drive. When the Titans got the ball, Mariota sailed a ball over the head of Matthews, and the Steelers cashed it in for three points to take a 10-0 lead barely five minutes into the contest.
But the Titans fought back, as Mariota engineered an 11-play, 68-yard touchdown drive he capped off with a seven-yard run to cut the lead to 10-7. Mariota connected with Matthews on a pair of completions, and running back Derrick Henry produced a nice 13-yard run. Rookie Corey Davis also made a nice sideline grab. Mariota showed some speed and some spunk with his run, and head-first dive into the end zone.
After a nice drive, the Titans had a chance to tie the game on a 48-yard field goal by Succop, but it was blocked by Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.
The Steelers got points just before halftime after cornerback Coty Sensabaugh intercepted Mariota and returned it to the Tennessee 20. Kicker Chris Boswell’s second field goal of the night made it 13-7 with 1:37 left before halftime.
Another Boswell field goal, this one from 50 yards, made it 16-7 at the half. Then came an action-packed second half that saw the Steelers take control. With the win, the Steelers improved to 8-2.
The Titans return to action on November 26 against the Colts in Indianapolis.
“It’s a marathon, man,” cornerback Logan Ryan said. “I remember we lost two straight, and people thought the sky was falling. And then we won four straight. So it is a marathon. This was a tough game – someone had to win it and we didn’t.
“But we get a chance to rest up before a division game. We have to get ready to play and be ready to bounce back.”