PITTSBURGH _ It was only one game, but if the post-game locker room is any indication, the Tennessee Titans defense might finally have its swagger back.
A year ago, there was no swagger for a team that gave up a franchise-record 471 points, and lost six games by at least 20 points in 2012.
But after bludgeoning Pittsburgh with five sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, allowing just 32 yards rushing, holding the Steelers to 0-for-6 on third down in the second half, and forcing two key turnovers in the game, the Titans' confidence and emotion showed through after the game.
As reporters were waiting for Coach Mike Munchak to come to the podium, a loud voice could be heard in the locker room, saying, “F--- those Terrible Towels” - followed by a cheer from the team.
For one week at least, the Titans defense had earned the right to be proud of their performance.
Zach Brown and Jurrell Casey led the charge with two sacks each on Sunday. Brown also had eight solo tackles to lead the Titans.
After the game, Casey sent out of a message of sorts to next week's opponent, the defending AFC South champion Houston Texans
“It's a conference game, and we're gonna go out there make sure we put our foot up their a—,” Casey said. “That's what we're gonna do. Not holding back at all against whoever we face. That's what we're gonna do all season long.”
Casey, one of the ringleaders of a Titans defense that is trying to forge an identity, said he and his teammates are now brimming with much-needed confidence.
“We've got another tough opponent next week in the Texans, and we're planning on doing it again. We're not doing anything different. We're just playing solid football, hard-nosed football up front and our linebackers are coming down filling the holes,” Casey said. “We've been going at it for a couple of months strong. We've got a great group of guys that come out and work hard. You already know what you're getting yourself in for. I've got great confidence in my defense that we can push forward throughout the season and make a big name for ourselves. That's what we're gonna do week in and week out, no doubt about it.”
Coach Mike Munchak said the defense's play was key in Tennessee pulling the upset victory.
“If our defense plays like that every Sunday, we'll win a lot of football games,” Munchak said. “... I am proud of them and that they could rise to the occasion.'
Casey is certainly off to a good start, as one of his sacks came against a double team.
“I got back there. They tried to double team me and couldn't do it,” he said. “As long as I'm healthy, like I said, I've got goals and I can't let nobody get in the way of me trying to reach those.”
Casey has stated that he has big goals for this season, and though he has declined to reveal what those are, Brown may have let the cat out of the bag.
“I think his goal is to break the record for sacks by an inside guy,” Brown said.
Safety Bernard Pollard, usually one of the more vocal defenders, credited the defensive line with setting the tempo against the Steelers.
“I thought that we played great ball. I thought everybody was one of 11 for everybody that is here and we're leaving with a victory,” Pollard said. “The d-line showed up and showed out, and that's what we must do.”