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Climer: Tennessee Titans' victory pulls season back from brink

7:09 AM, Oct 12, 2012   |    comments
Tennessee Titans
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Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean

I guess the Titans don't plan to go quietly after all.

With their season on the brink, the Titans drew a line in the turf at LP Field on Thursday night. By beating Pittsburgh 26-23, they stopped the bleeding and made a statement that they are in this for the long haul.

Maybe this season isn't lost after all.

Granted, much work remains. When you dig a hole this deep by losing four of your first five games, it takes more than a victory over the Steelers to repair all the damage.

But it's a start.

"For us, it's a great accomplishment beating a very good football team," said Titans Coach Mike Munchak. "... Hopefully, we can build off this."

Remember, this was the last game of a front-loaded schedule that pitted the Titans against prime competition. They now get a break before playing at Buffalo on Oct. 21. Better days should be ahead.

If so, we will look back on this evening as a turning point. Instead of fading when momentum swung against them in the fourth quarter, the Titans staged a comeback, eventually winning on Rob Bironas' 40-yard field goal as time expired.

Few outside of the Titans' locker room saw it coming. Why would we? In the previous two games, the Titans had put up only token resistance in lopsided losses at Houston and Minnesota. Their flesh was weak. Their spirit looked even weaker.

But just when things appeared bleak, they responded with their most complete game of the season.

"Hopefully we can put a stake in the ground with this victory," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who rebounded from a horrible game last week to oversee the decisive drive against the Steelers.

Give Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin an assist on this one. Facing fourth down at the Titans 36-yard line inside the one-minute mark, Tomlin sent Shaun Suisham out for a 54-yard field goal attempt. Suisham had made a 52-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter.

But this one came up short, with the ball returning to the spot of the kick, giving the Titans good field position.

"He banged the other one before that pretty clean so I decided to give him a shot at it," Tomlin said. "I take the responsibility for the miss."

From there, Hasselbeck took over. The pressure point came on third-and-5 at midfield. Hasselbeck retreated and waited for tight end Jared Cook to work his way across the field and into a gaping hole in the Pittsburgh secondary.

Hasselbeck hit him in stride and Cook finished off a 25-yard gain. After a short Chris Johnson run, Bironas delivered the winning kick.

Credit Hasselbeck for hanging in there. He had struggled in relief of the injured Jake Locker in the Houston and Minnesota games, but made a number of clutch throws against the Steelers. He was sacked three times and harassed throughout the game but Hasselbeck threw for 290 yards and a touchdown.

He was at his best when the game was on the line. With the Titans trailing 23-16 midway through the fourth quarter, Hasselbeck oversaw an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that tied the game. The biggest play of that drive came on third-and-8 when he found an open Kendall Wright over the middle and hit him for a 35-yard gain.

Hasselbeck finished that drive with a 5-yard pass to Kenny Britt, with the ball initially glancing off Britt's hands before he secured the catch in the end zone.

Then came the winning drive, which featured the key pass to Cook.

The fact that the Titans were still in position to win at the end is a testament to their perseverance. Given what had happened in the last two weeks, it was particularly heartening to see how the Titans responded to adversity early in the game.

With the score tied 3-3, Ben Roethlisberger burned them with an 82-yard bomb to Mike Wallace, who had beaten cornerback Jason McCourty by a step and then outran safety Michael Griffin to the goal line.

It was the kind of play that could have snowballed on the Titans. Indeed, if this team were as fragile as it appeared in the previous two games, the Titans would have gone into retreat.

But that's when they dug in. And a season that appeared to be headed nowhere took a turn for the better.

"Hopefully this is something we're going to continue to see week in and week out," Munchak said.

Can they sustain it? Nobody knows. It's not like one game cured everything that was wrong with the Titans.

But for one night at least, they refused to lose.

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