4. September 10, 2009
Opening Day Comeback Clouded by Horrendous Foreshadowing
Steelers 13 – Titans 10
This was supposed to be a glorious day to be had by all in Steeler Nation as the 2009 season opened at Heinz Field and Pittsburgh looked to defend their 2008 Title against the Tennessee Titans. Yet even after a season opening win, an injury to arguably the Steelers’ best player gave fans a horrible moment of foreshadowing for the rest of the 2009 campaign.
Both teams looked shaky and sluggish on Offense early in the game. Pittsburgh did almost nothing on its first two possessions, and Tennessee went 3 and Out on their first one before putting together a nice drive deep into Pittsburgh territory. Aided by a Personal Foul penalty on Troy Polamalu, and a 20 yard reception by Bo Scaife from Kerry Collins, the Titans set up Rob Bironas with a 37 yard Field Goal. Unfortunately for the Pro Bowler Bironas, he totally missed the kick wide right and the game remained scoreless! Pittsburgh couldn’t take advantage and went 3 and Out on their next possession giving Tennessee another chance to get something going.
The Titans got just past midfield when Troy Polamalu made the INT of the 2009 season. Collins threw deep down the field for Kenny Britt but Polamalu made a play on the underthrown ball and INT’d it with one freakin hand! I’m sure all of you remember how awesome it was, but if you don’t I’m sure there is a youtube.com link to it. The only thought running through my head at that point was “Holy Crap!” My friends that were over at the time and I were awestruck by what a play that Troy had made. Yet that’s exactly what he’s done his entire career in the League and the Steelers were saved for the moment.
Ben made a boneheaded play after the turnover and proceeded to give the ball right back to the Titans at the Pittsburgh 44 after throwing an INT to Vincent Fuller. Tennessee could do nothing with the turnover and were thwarted by a James Farrior sack that moved them out of Field Goal range at the beginning of the 2nd Quarter. The Steelers still couldn’t score and were forced to punt again to the Titans who almost broke the game wide open on their next drive.
Tennessee used almost 5 minutes of clock and 12 plays and found themselves at the Pittsburgh 12 with 2nd and 5 to go. But a Casey Hampton stuff of a Chris Johnson run and a Collins incompletion sent Bironas onto the field again. Luckily for the Steelers Aaron Smith blocked the 31 yard attempt, but there was a nasty consequence. Polamalu tried to pick up the ball in the scrum and Alge Crumpler fell on his knee and sprained Troy’s MCL! This injury to Troy would be devastating and he would be lost for the rest of the game, and almost all of the season because of it. The ball was in Big Ben’s court now, and he had to respond. Luckily that’s just what he did.
Still tied at 0 with time running out in the 1st Half, Ben did exactly what he continues to do best: Run the 2 minute offense like a champ. Ben directed the Steelers right down the field and hit Hines Ward and Sansmokio Holmes on a couple pass attempts to pull them into Tennessee territory. Then Ben went for broke and after he got enough time to throw fired a 34 yard TD strike to Sansmokio who was wide open. I figured that the Steelers had finally captured momentum and would just head into Half Time up 7-0. However, I was dead wrong.
Kerry Collins directed a TD drive of his own that lasted just over a minute and tied the game. I didn’t even see the drive because I was in the bathroom taking a leak and didn’t even realize that the Titans had scored until I heard cursing coming from my living room. After the Justin Gage TD reception the game was tied at 7, and 30 minutes would decide the winner of this slop-fest.
The 3rd Quarter was a complete and total deadlock. Both defenses really showcased how good they really were. The Steelers did have a chance to break the game open on Tennessee’s first possession of the 3rd Quarter when James Harrison stripped Bo Scaife near midfield and Keyaron Fox recovered the ball, but their drive stalled after only one First Down. The teams entered the 4th Quarter still tied at 7 and what Steeler Nation got was a wild and wacky end to this game.
Tennessee took their opening possession of the 4th Quarter and managed to eek out a decent enough drive to put them in Field Goal range. Bironas nailed a 45 yard Field Goal, and the Titans took a 10-7 lead with 11:03 left in the game. Ben and the Steelers responded on the next drive by going no-huddle with some immediate success. Ben completed passes to Willie Parker, Heath Miller, Mewelde Moore, and Sansmokio Holmes on the drive, and got it all the way down to the Titans 9 yard line. But some asinine play-calling by Bruce Arians (he sent Me-Mo on inside runs twice on 2nd and 3rd and Short) led to the Steelers settling for a 32 yard Jeff Reed Field Goal.
After a 4 play drive and a 28 yard Craig Hentrich punt screwed the Titans, the Steelers had the ball with 1:50 left and at their own 42 yard line. Ben quickly went to work again hitting Holmes, Ward, and Me-Mo on three straight plays to the Tennessee 34. All seemed right with the universe. Just a few more yards and Reed would nail the winning Field Goal. Well, that didn’t exactly happen and the game got a hell of a lot more interesting.
On 1st Down with 1:03 to go, Ben found Hines on a deep middle pass and Hines had himself a 30 yard gain and tried to go for the goal line. Sadly for Hines, the ball was knocked loose by Michael Griffin and Stephen Tulloch recovered the ball for the Titans! It was so disheartening to see Hines fail like that because you know how bad he wanted to win the game then and there. Tennessee promptly sat on the ball and then the game went into O.T..
Luckily for the Steelers, they won the coin toss and the Titans would never see the ball again. Starting at their own 22, the Steelers began moving the ball slowly but surely on the arm of Roethlisberger. Ward, Sansmokio, and Heath all made big catches, but it was Rookie Mike Wallace’s 22 yard catch to the Tennessee 15 that put them in Field Goal range. Tomlin didn’t want to waste any time and he sent Reed in to win it. Skippy summarily nailed the 33 yard Field Goal, and the Steelers won the game 13-10!
Don’t get me wrong, seeing the Steelers win and win over what was thought to be some of their top competition in the A.F.C. was pretty awesome. Yet I’ll never forget this horrible feeling that I had brewing inside me over the loss of Troy and what would happen to the Defense. Then I remembered when Aaron Smith got hurt in 2007 and how the Defense just went into a tailspin. I figured that the loss of Troy would be even more devastating because of his big play ability. It turns out that was the case in 2009 because Troy never got healthy, and he was on the shelf for good just after the midway point of the season. We all know what happened so I won’t go into it, but the loss of Polamalu was probably one of the biggest reasons the Secondary was so awful that season and ended up costing the team a shot at the postseason.