Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean
PITTSBURGH — The signs were all over Heinz Field, reminding the Titans of what they were up against.
"The Rings Don't Lie" was a reference to the six Super Bowl wins the Steelers own. Another banner paid tribute to the vaunted Steel Curtain.
Then there was one that simply read, "Bring It!"
In their 16-9 victory over the tradition-rich franchise on Sunday, the Titans did just that. They looked like the tougher team mentally and physically, and they hardly resembled the squad that started 1-4 and finished 6-10 last season.
It was an encouraging start after a robust offseason that was intended to spark such changes in mind-set and performance.
"We are not the Titans of old," defensive end Derrick Morgan said confidently. "We know we don't have much of an identity to the rest of the league, and to the outside looking in. But we know who we are, and we have to keep building that identity. It started here today."
Having spent more than $100 million in free agency and reshaping a roster with 20 new players, the Titans on this day looked like a team ready for more success, even if these Steelers aren't the formidable foe of years past.
The Titans did nothing spectacular on offense, and quarterback Jake Locker rewarded them with a mistake-free game. Using three running backs, the ground game piled up 42 bruising attempts, including a 12-play scoring drive that featured 11 carries.
"When you play the Steelers, you know it is going to be one of those nasty, old-school, old-fashioned games," said center Rob Turner, one of three new starters on the offensive line. "I think at one point when we were running it, you could see that defense start to wear down, and start to look around and say, 'What's going on?' "
The most positive developments, however, came from a defense that was far more physical and aggressive than it was last season, when the Titans allowed a franchise-record 471 points.
Defenders were constantly on top of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sacking him five times and forcing him to get rid of the ball early on numerous other plays. The run game was no help for Roethlisberger, as the Steelers rushed for only 32 yards.
"You could see it in Ben's eyes — he wanted to get back to that locker room pretty quick," said defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who had two sacks. "As long as we keep getting to quarterbacks, it's going to be like that all year."
Coach Mike Munchak was quick to credit defensive coordinator Jerry Gray for the game plan, although new assistant Gregg Williams had his fingerprints on this one as well.
As the Titans built their lead to 16-2 in the fourth quarter, the once-boisterous crowd got quieter.
"We made sure we put those Terrible Towels up their butts all day long," Casey said. "They waved them at the beginning of the game, but they left pretty early."
The Titans overcame an embarrassing start, when return man Darius Reynaud inexplicably kneeled for a safety on the opening kickoff.
But after recovering a Pittsburgh fumble in their end zone for a touchback just when it looked like the Steelers were on the verge of going up 9-0, the Titans settled down.
Jackie Battle's 3-yard touchdown gave Tennessee a 7-2 lead at halftime, and three Rob Bironas field goals stretched it to 16-2 by the fourth quarter. The Steelers marched for a touchdown with 1:23 remaining, but the Titans recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
It ended a good start to the season, but the Titans know they have a long way to go.
"We showed up and we showed out. But we have to do this week in and week out," safety Bernard Pollard said. "Do we want to go undefeated? Yes, we do. It is realistic? Nah, not really.
"So we just want to continue to play and try and keep winning games. Yeah, this is a different Titans team from years past. We keep saying that, but we have to keep proving it."