PITTSBURGH _ The Tennessee Titans did just what they wanted for the most part on offense.
Maybe the numbers weren't pretty, but they will take the result that the running game brought, a 16-9 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In all, the Titans ran for 112 yards as a team, though it took them 42 carries to reach that number, just a 2.7-yard average.
Chris Johnson led the way with 70 hard-earned yards on 25 rushing attempts. CJ's longest run of the day was for just 11 yards.
Tennessee's offense began to take control of the game by chipping away at the Steelers on the first touchdown drive of the game. Alterraun Verner's interception at the Steelers 49-yard line gave the Titans good field position.
From there, Tennessee took 12 plays, calling 11 runs and ate 6:48 off the clock with Jackie Battle, who had earlier converted a crucial fourth-and-1 to keep the drive alive.
“I thought that drive was an opportunity for us,” said Titans quaterback Jake Locker. “We go the ball on a turnover at midfield. It was a defining moment in the game in my opinion. (It's) a time where it's like, 'Hey, you can go out with a three-and-out, and it's like it never happened. Or you can go down and score and really shift the momentum. Guys starting believing and buying into what's going on. That's exactly what happened.”
That drive was just the beginning for the Titans, who managed 34:01 in time of possession on Sunday.
“Anytime you can run the ball up and down the field, you are going to have a lot of possessions,” Johnson said. “I think that is what we are trying to do this year.”
The reworked offensive line found its groove, something that had been a focus since preseason.
“We were working toward running the ball in the preseason,” tackle Michael Roos said. “It is something we wanted to do to take steps in the right direction. To come out here and do the real thing in the season opener in a hostile environment, that speaks to the work of these guys do and the coaches themselves.”
The Titans offense ran plenty of times out of run-formation sets, even going 17 snaps in the game with three tight ends on the field. Four of those snaps were also with a fullback in the game. With three tight ends, Tennessee ran the ball 13 times and completed one of two passes, a 13-yarder to Nate Washington. Locker was sacked his only time of the game from that package. One run was called back on a holding penalty.
“We knew it was gonna be a real physical game, especially with these guys. We knew we were gonna have to smash the ball, really for four quarters,” Titans tight end Craig Stevens said.
The Titans were down three seconds into the game when kick returner Darius Reynaud was called for a safety.
Reynaud was just behind the end line, when he grabbed the kickoff that was rolling toward him. He picked the ball up while it was still in the field of play, and his foot was on the goal line. He end went back into the end zone and downed the ball, but after the officials huddled, it was ruled a safety.
“I know I was in the end zone. I did not know where the ball was. That's something I need to work on. I need to keep my head up next time something like that happens,” Reynaud said.
The Titans offense was already on the field when the call was made, giving the Steelers a 2-0 lead and causing the Titans to have to free kick the ball to them.
“It was crazy. We were standing out there on he field getting ready to run the play,” running back Chris Johnson said. “Then it was one or two officials, and then we saw the whole crew over there. We really didn't know what was going on. And when they replayed it up there, I knew it was a safety.”
The Steelers marched downfield and threatened to go up 9-0, but Ike Redman's fumble inside the 5 was recovered by Moise Fokou in the end zone..
Running back Shonn Greene suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return to the game, giving way to Jackie Battle.
Greene said the injury is not serious.
“It'll be all right. I just got it caught up underneath me and it kind of buckled. I don't think so,” Greene said.
Tackle David Stewart, who was questionable to start the game with a calf injury that kept him out of practice for most of the week, had a 15-yard penalty that nearly killed one drive.
Stewart's penalty took the Titans to the fringe of field goal range and set up a second-and-27. Tennessee managed to gain nine yards back and Rob Bironas nailed a 44-yard field goal to make the score 13-2.
Stewart said he was flagged apparently for retaliating against Steelers linebacker Kion Wilson on the play.
“(It was) my body language I guess. He threw it off of that. (Wilson) had me. He got me. I took the hit on that one,” Stewart said.