NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans (13-2) sent a message to the rest of the AFC playoff field that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Nashville.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher used the fact the Steelers (11-4) were two-point favorites as a rallying point for the Titans.
And Tennessee did the rest, playing a near-perfect game, becoming the first team to gain more than 300 yards against Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense. "They made the significant plays to get them home-field advantage," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "The story of the game for us was just missed opportunities. When you don't take care of the football versus good people, in a hostile environment, it bites you."
Roethlisberger threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but also was intercepted twice and fumbled four times, losing two.
The first fumble came at the Tennessee 1-yard line after a first-quarter scramble that was recovered by the Titans. Instead of taking at least a 3-0 lead, the Steelers were turned away with nothing, setting the tone for the game.
While the Titans didn't get any points out of that turnover, they would out of Pittsburgh's next three.
With Pittsburgh trailing 3-0 after a 42-yard Rod Bironas field goal, Roethlisberger was sacked by William Hayes at the Steelers' 40 and fumbled. Three plays later, Kerry Collins threw 34 yards down the seam to Justin Gage for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
That turnover didn't hurt the Steelers as much as the next two.
With Tennessee clinging to a 17-14 lead in the third quarter, the Steelers were driving when Roethlisberger was intercepted by safety Michael Griffin at the Tennessee 31 on a pass intended for Nate Washington. Griffin returned the ball to the Pittsburgh 37, setting up one of the more bizarre series of the season.
First, Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark's feet got tangled with receiver Brandon Jones in the end zone, drawing a flag. After huddling, the officials said there was no penalty because the ball was tipped.
Fisher threw his challenge flag after replays clearly showed the ball wasn't touched by a defender. After a huddle with Fisher, who challenged the call, it was explained to him that the flag was picked up because the two players got their feet tangled.
The Titans got the ball to the Pittsburgh 4 before stalling on fourth down. Tennessee lined up for a field-goal attempt, but before the ball was snapped James Harrison was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for simulating the snap count, giving the Titans a first down at the Pittsburgh 2. LenDale White scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Tennessee ahead 24-14.
Griffin finished off the Steelers by intercepting Roethlisberger again and returning it 83 yards for a touchdown and the 31-14 margin.
Backup defensive lineman Jason Jones – playing in place of injured Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth – had a big game, recording 3 1/2 sacks and forcing three of Roethlisberger's four fumbles.