PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained left foot is just fine thanks. And so, apparently, are the defending AFC champions.
The quarterback tied a team record by throwing for five touchdowns — including two to Hines Ward — and the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled past the Tennessee Titans 38-17 on Sunday.
Other than a slight limp when he ran, Roethlisberger appeared to have no issues with his sprained left foot, also hitting Mike Wallace, Heath Miller and David Johnson for scores as the Steelers (3-2) ended Tennessee’s three-game winning streak.
The five touchdown passes tied a single-game club record Roethlisberger already shares with Mark Malone and Terry Bradshaw.
Tennessee’s Chris Johnson ran for a score but finished with 51 rushing yards on 14 carries as the Titans (3-2) hot start came to a screeching halt against Pittsburgh’s rejuvenated defense.
The Steelers were playing without injured starters James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith. For an afternoon, they were not missed. Pittsburgh scored touchdowns on its first three possessions as Roethlisberger deftly picked apart the Titans.
He completed 24 of 34 passes for 228 yards, his only hiccup coming on an interception late in the first half after some miscommunication with Antonio Brown cost the Steelers a chance at a late score.
Though Roethlisberger vowed he wouldn’t change the way he played despite spending the first four weeks of the season under siege, the Steelers used a more West Coast-style attack against the Titans with Roethlisberger taking a lot of three-step drops and letting his receivers do the work.
They were only too happy to oblige. Ward caught a season-high seven passes, Wallace added six catches for 82 yards and Miller caught three for 46 yards.
Roethlisberger, who has made a career out of extending plays and looking to go deep, played it closer to the vest. The Steelers spread the field and he did an excellent job of getting the ball out before the defense could get near his left foot, which was inside a steel-plated cleat designed to protect it from further damage.
Until Roethlisberger hit Wallace for a 40-yard score late in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh’s longest completion actually came on a 33-yard pass from punter Dan Sepulveda to Ryan Mundy on a fake punt in the second quarter. The play led to a 7-yard scoring pass from Roethlisberger to Ward that put the Steelers up 14-3.
The trickery was part of a creative offensive gameplan that included a pair of end arounds and a goal line formation with offensive tackle Trai Essex at fullback.
The Steelers biggest surprise, however, came from reserve running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, pressed into service after starter Rashard Mendenhall dressed but did not play due to a sore hamstring.
Redman got the start and ran for 49 yards while Dwyer ran for 107 yards on 11 carries in just his second career game. He ripped off a 76-yard burst down the sideline in the second quarter leading to Roethlisberger’s 1-yard scoring toss to Johnson that put the Steelers up 21-3.
It was all the cushion the defense would need.
Pittsburgh held Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck in check, limiting him to 262 mostly inconsequential yards, sacking him three times and picking him off late in the third quarter to snuff out any hopes for a desperate rally.
The Titans were looking to prove their solid start under first-year coach Mike Munchak was no fluke. They came in with the NFL’s stingiest defense — allowing 14 points a game — and were hoping a win on the road against the Steelers would serve as validation that they’re a legitimate playoff contender.
It will have to wait after the Steelers looked like the Steelers for the first time this season.
Pittsburgh trudged through the first month of the season, looking overmatched in losses to Baltimore and Houston and just so-so in wins over Seattle and Indianapolis.
The Steelers re-signed tackle Max Starks this week just over two months after the team cut the veteran in a salary cap purge. He practiced three times and found himself starting at left tackle.
The return of one of Roethlisberger’s best friends seemed to give the offensive line the spark it needed. Roethlisberger was sacked once and rarely got hit.
The defense, which came in ranked 22nd in the league against the run, was nearly as good.
Johnson darted 21 yards on the first play of the game, but after that he found little running room and was rendered almost useless after the Steelers ran out to a big lead.