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Published September 12, 2015
The Pittsburgh Steelers go into their bye with Le'Veon Bell showing he can help Ben Roethlisberger with the balance coach Mike Tomlin has been wanting all season.
Bell turned in the best rushing performance in the NFL this season Monday night with 204 yards, and the Steelers finally beat a struggling team as they rallied for a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans.
"We want to be a group that's capable of stepping in a stadium and throwing with anybody in the NFL," Tomlin said. "We want to be a group that's capable of stepping into a stadium and running with anybody in the NFL. I think we are rounding into form in that regard and then we can just do what the game presents to us and I think that's a recipe for real, long term success."
The Steelers (7-4) moved into second in the so very competitive AFC North, getting the win they so needed to avoid going into their bye on a two-game skid.
"We definitely could be sitting prettier, but we won the game going into our bye week, so now we can take a week and look back and see what happens in the rest of the division and go from there," Bell said. "We can only control what we can control right now."
The Titans (2-8) now must hit the road for a two-game swing in a month filled with winning opponents. But they showed signs of improvement with rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger shaking off an interception returned for a touchdown on his first pass to help Tennessee take a 24-13 lead.
"We're close," Mettenberger said. "We've just got to keep working."
Here are some things we learned about the Steelers and Titans:
RED ZONE WOES: Bell scored the Steelers' first rushing touchdown since Week 3 against Carolina and only Pittsburgh's fourth this season. The Steelers jumped out to a 10-0 lead that could have been bigger if they hadn't settled for one of Shaun Suisham's two field goals after having first-and-goal at the Titans 6. Roethlisberger also was intercepted in the end zone inside the final minute of the first half by Titans cornerback Jason McCourty.
"We still got to get better in the red area," Tomlin said.
MUNCH'S PAYBACK: Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak coached his first game against the franchise he spent 32 seasons with as a player, assistant coach and later head coach. He was let go in January after going 22-26, and Munchak helped the Steelers hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes with a line opening big holes all night long for Bell. The Steelers held the ball for the final 6 minutes, 58 seconds.
GOOD LOOKING ROOKIE: Mettenberger showed plenty of poise for a rookie in his third NFL start. He left his first pass a little inside, and William Gay picked it off for a 28-yard interception return for a TD. But Mettenberger bounced right back, and his best throw came after McCourty's interception. He hit Nate Washington in stride for an 80-yard catch and run TD that gave the Titans a 17-13 lead at halftime. Whisenhunt said he was impressed at how Mettenberger responded.
The Steelers were impressed too.
"You can see why they like him, he is a fighter," Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. "He sat in the pocket and took some hard hits and delivered some balls. For a rookie going against our defense, you have guys like James Harrison chasing you and he was just sitting in there and showing his heart."
PROTECTING BIG BEN: For all the holes the Steelers opened for Bell, they still gave up five sacks to the Titans, including two to rookie linebacker Avery Williamson. Roethlisberger escaped another would-be sack when he broke loose on his lone run of the night.
CLEANER TITANS: Penalties have been such an issue for Tennessee that Whisenhunt has had officials at practice the past two weeks. Well, the Titans showed they're learning as they were flagged only once for 10 yards when right guard Chance Warmack was penalized for holding. It was only the fourth time since the start of the 1999 season the Titans had one or fewer penalties.
"Maybe what we're doing in practice is helping," Whisenhunt said.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker