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Titans find rhythm in victory over Steelers

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completes a pass to Chris Johnson as he is hit by the Steelers' Cortez Allen during the second quarter Thursday October 11, 2012 at LP Field.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:50 a.m.
 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Huge underdogs to the Steelers at LP Field, the stumbling Tennessee Titans regained their footing with an improbable 26-23 victory on a last-second, 40-yard field goal by Rob Bironas.

Playing unlike a team that toted a 1-4 record into the game, the Titans counter-punched when backed against the ropes. Their resiliency was tested early when Mike Wallace torched them with an 82-yard touchdown catch that put the Steelers ahead, 10-3, with 5:25 left in the first.

Tim Shaw, a seldom-used linebacker, blocked a Drew Butler punt on the last play of the opening quarter to fire up the faithful nearly lost amid the thousands of Terrible Towels. Three plays later, running back Jamie Harper slithered in from the 1 to give Tennessee a 13-10 lead.

The Steelers dropped their guard against the disjointed Titans, but veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington made enough plays to keep the Titans within striking distance.

“For us to fight down to the wire like that, it's huge for us,” guard Steve Hutchinson said. “It's something we needed.”

The Titans appeared ready to fold when linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepted a Hasselbeck pass early in the fourth quarter to help push the Steelers' lead to 23-16.

Perhaps, the most egregious miscues were drops by wide receiver Kenny Britt. Yet, Britt quickly gain redemption by juggling, then securing a 5-yard touchdown pass with 4:19 left to cap an 80-yard drive that tied the score, 23-23.

The Titans kept hanging around because they made big plays on both sides of the ball. Something they hadn't done all season.

• Hasselbeck, starting for the third time this season, evaded a blitz to flip an underhanded pass to Chris Johnson for a first down at the Steelers' 44 and hit Kendall Wright for a 15-yard completion to set up 47-yard field goal by Bironas as time expired in the first half.

• The defense, which has yielded more points than any team in the league, corralled running back Rashard Mendenhall. The Titans had four tackles for losses — more than the previous five games.

Then, with the Steelers trying to inch placekicker Shaun Suisham closer downfield for his second straight game-winning field goal, five Titans chased after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to force an errant throw on third down with 49 seconds to play.

“I knew (Roethlisberger) was going to keep the playing going,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “We felt we had to get after him, and we made him make a crazy throw.”

Suisham missed the 54-yard field goal to give the Titans a shot at a stunning victory. And when tight end Jared Cook beat linebacker James Harrison for a 25-yard gain to set up Bironas' game-winner, the Titans were in perfect rhythm.

“We were nervous on the sideline, but we have confidence in our kicker,” Britt said.

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923

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