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September 12, 2009

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Steelers sting Titans in opener OT

THE Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off their Super Bowl defense with a fourth-quarter comeback and an overtime field-goal for a 13-10 win over the Tennessee Titans in a bruising opening night to the National Football League season on Thursday.

The Steelers won the Super Bowl in February after trailing in the final quarter to the Arizona Cardinals, and it was a similar, if less dramatic, late show that sealed victory at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

With three minutes left in regulation time, Jeff Reed leveled the scores 10-10 with a 32-yard kick to take the match into overtime, then completed a 10-play, 63-yard drive with a 33-yard goal to leave the Titans regretting missed chances.

The win was bittersweet for the Steelers, however, who lost safety Troy Polamalu, their defensive inspiration, before the interval with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Polamalu, who had been in outstanding form, making an acrobatic one-handed interception and some strong tackles, faces up to six weeks out with the injury.

The opening game of the new NFL season was a gruelling physical battle and stood scoreless at halftime after the normally reliable Titans kicker Rob Bironas missed one field goal and had another blocked.

But the game came alive near the end of the third quarter when Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to receiver Santonio Holmes.

With the next drive, the Titans drew level when Justin Gage collected on a 14-yard pass into the end zone from Kerry Collins.

The Titans got in front again in the fourth with a 45-yard field goal from Bironas but, with three minutes remaining, Reed's 32-yard kick brought the game level at 10-10.

Strong defense from the Steelers forced Tennessee to punt and Pittsburgh should have won the game with its final possession of regular time.

On first down, Roethlisberger threw a deep pass to a wide open Hines Ward who headed to the Titans four-yard line but the experienced receiver dropped the ball -- throwing away an almost certain game-winning play.

The Titans lost the coin toss to start overtime and never saw the ball again. Roethlisberger hit Ward for an 11-yard reception, Holmes for 11 and rookie Mike Wallace for 22. Unwilling to risk a turnover, the Steelers kicked the field goal on first down to win it -- Reed's calm kick ensuring victory against a Titans team that went 13-3 in the regular season last year.

Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times but completed 33 of 43 passes for 363 yards, said he didn't want the team to make a habit of late victories.

"We didn't want to do it this way so early in the season -- but we will take the win," he told NBC television.

"It means a lot -- we had a lot of fight, we didn't play well early but proud of the way the guys fought back."


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