When someone writes the obituary for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday night's 26-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans deserves a chapter of its own. Mike Tomlin's team limped off the field and into a locker room serving as a temporary infirmary. They now own a 2-3 record after Tennessee's Rob Bironas kicked a 40-yard field goal to end the game.
The Titans were seen by most as a minor obstacle for the mighty Steelers. Pittsburgh entered the Week 6 game favored by five and a half points. All four of Tennessee's losses were by at least three touchdowns. Pittsburgh came coasting in on what was apparently more reputation than anything.
Tennessee struck first. Matt Hasselbeck was sharp enough to move the ball 69 yards down the field on the opening drive, walking away with three points. The Steelers answered with 10 points on their first two drives. A field goal ended Pittsburgh's first possession. The next time the offense had the ball, Ben Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace for an 82-yard touchdown.
The lead changed again when Tennessee scored their first rushing touchdown of the season, but it wasn't Chris Johnson taking the ball across the goal line. Jamie Harper carried it in from 1 yard out. The possession itself was the result of a blocked punt, the play where the entire tone of the game became more menacing for Pittsburgh.
Injuries have become inescapable for the Steelers these days. Thursday's game was particularly costly, even by their standards. Maurkice Pouncey was the first to go, out with a leg injury. He was only the first offensive lineman to leave the game. Marcus Gilbert was also hurt.
Running backs were hit pretty hard, too. Rashard Mendenhall disappeared with what would later be reported as an Achilles injury. Appropriate. Isaac Redman left the game after taking a helmet to his knee.
Tennessee reminded the world it still has some talent on its roster. Rookie receiver Kendall Wright led the bunch with six catches for 71 yards. Kenny Britt had another four for 62 yards and a touchdown, his first of the season. Britt's always been a frustrating player for the Titans, and it was no different with his work in the end zone. Britt dropped two passes on a critical fourth-quarter drive. But Matt Hasselbeck went back to him for a third try, and Britt bobbled it in the air before finally securing it for the score.
Chris Johnson did make his presence known. He rushed for 91 yards on 16 attempts, his second-best performance on the season.
Roethlisberger finished the game 24-for-40 with 363 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The passing yards brought his career total to 28,352 yards, surpassing Terry Bradshaw as the franchise leader. The quarterback found a loyal ally in Isaac Redman and the bubble screen. Redman caught four passes for 105 yards, the first Steelers running back with triple digit receiving numbers since Frenchy Fuqua in 1970.
Records were little consolation to a Steelers team with serious cracks in its foundation. Troy Polamalu and Lamar Woodley were inactive because of injuries. The beat-up offensive line is going to be a problem.
The Steelers will use an extra couple of days to rest in the hopes that some players can get better in time for an AFC North match against the Bengals in Week 7.
Tennessee gets to celebrate, with an eye on winning another next week at Buffalo.