Steelers survive Titans’ wild push to triumph in battle of unbeatens

NASHVILLE — This time, they couldn't find a way.

The Titans fell into an early deficit against the Steelers and never recovered in their 27-24 loss Sunday at Nissan Stadium. Stephen Gostkowski missed a game-tying field goal from 45 yards away with 19 seconds remaining.

The Steelers (6-0) are now the last undefeated team in the AFC.

Here are five observations from the Titans’ first loss of the season:

Never-say-die Titans finally fall

The Titans made it interesting when it looked like the Steelers were going to run away with it.

They fought back from a three-score deficit in the second half, using a late surge to pull to within 27-24. But Gostkowski, who missed his two field goal attempts last week, pushed his game-tying attempt wide right.

The Steelers, by the skin of their teeth, improved to 225-0-1 all-time when leading by 20-plus points.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ola Adeniyi (92) celebrates after the muffed punt of Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern (6) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. (Photo: Steve Roberts, USA TODAY Sports)

Rare early hole

For the first time this season, the Titans allowed points on their opponents’ opening possession of the game.

But it wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill drive. It was a long, meticulous drive that spanned nine minutes, 18 seconds, the Steelers' longest opening-touchdown drive in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

It set the tone for what would be a completely one-sided first quarter. In fact, the Steelers held a 13:39-to-1:21 advantage in time of possession in the opening 15 minutes.

Pittsburgh took a 24-7 lead into halftime.

Third-down nightmare

A lot of that early deficit had to do with the Titans defense’s struggles on third down. They just couldn’t get off the field — again.

The Steelers converted on their first seven third-down tries, including conversions from 11, 12 and 14 yards away from a first down.

Tennessee entered the game ranked last in the league in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 57.8% of the time. They only helped cement their place Sunday.

Still, when it mattered most, the Titans defense came up with a stop. A game-changing one.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers leading by three, Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone by Amani Hooker on a third-and-12.

The Steelers finished 13-of-18 on third down.

The Titans also struggled on special teams, with a holding call against Daren Bates on the kickoff preceding their first possession, a muffed kickoff by Kalif Raymond on their final possession of the first half, and a 57-yard punt return by Ray McCloud late in second quarter.

Offense fails to reach 30 points for first time since Week 1

There were several glimmers from the Titans offense, most notably A.J. Brown’s 73-yard touchdown catch on a quick slant pass from Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter. The second-year wide receiver outran everyone on his way to his fourth touchdown grab of the season.

But for the most part, a surging Tennessee offense was held mostly in check by the stifling Steelers defense, which entered Sunday ranked second in the league in yards allowed.

Tannehill completed 18-of-30 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Henry ran 20 times for 75 yards and a touchdown that cap

Steelers to Super Bowl?

Titans-Steelers represented the fifth game in NFL history between two undefeated teams in Week 7 or later (excluding strike seasons). The winner of the previous four games went on to make the Super Bowl.

So perhaps the Steelers are heading to Tampa Bay in February.

As for the Titans? They next head to Cincinnati for their first road game since Sept. 27.

Sunday’s game was originally scheduled for Oct. 4, but the Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak forced the NFL to postpone it.

A league source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because no official announcement has been made, confirmed to the Tennessean on Sunday that the Titans were fined $350,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols. The NFL and NFLPA had concluded their joint investigation into the Titans earlier this week.

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