NASHVILLE — The Pittsburgh Steelers stand alone as the AFC’s last undefeated team thanks to a dominant start and a bit of late luck.
Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes to Diontae Johnson, and the Steelers remained perfect by holding off Tennessee for a 27-24 victory Sunday in a game postponed three weeks after the Titans came down with the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak of the season.
In a matchup of the conference’s two remaining unbeaten teams, the Titans rallied by scoring 17 straight after being smothered in the first half.
They failed to complete the comeback when Stephen Gostkowski, who made a 51-yarder earlier, missed wide right from 45 yards with 14 seconds left, sending the Steelers running around the field in celebration and stunning the Titans (5-1). Even Roethlisberger appeared shocked the four-time Pro Bowl kicker missed.
“Oh, man. I mean, I was surprised he missed it,” Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “Our idea was to go into overtime. A good kicker. It’s tough. It’s good for us.”
The Steelers improved to 6-0 for their best start since 1978, when Pittsburgh won its first seven on the way to the Super Bowl. This was just the fifth time undefeated teams had met in Week 7 or later, and the winner of the previous four all made the Super Bowl.
“We feel we have a really good football team,” Roethlisberger said. “We feel we can be really special … That’s going to be a short-lived happiness because we know what’s coming next.”
What comes next? A matchup with the rival Ravens.
“We are perfect from a record standpoint, and so we respect that,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “We realize that we’ve got AFC North ball on next week on the road. We’re going to a group that has seven days’ advantage on us, so there’s a lot for us to be urgent about.”
Benny Snell Jr. added a 1-yard TD run, and Ray-Ray McCloud set up a touchdown with a 57-yard punt return. Pittsburgh scored at least 26 points for a sixth straight game to tie a stretch in 2015 for the longest in franchise history.
The Steelers were without cornerback Mike Hilton, one of their best blitzers, not that the NFL’s No. 2 defence in both yards and points allowed missed him much. Pittsburgh outgained Tennessee 362-292 and held the NFL’s second-best scoring offence under 31 points for the first time since the opening week of the season.
But the Titans had won four of their first five by rallying in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime, and they appeared ready to add another.
Ryan Tannehill hit A.J. Brown on a short pass that the receiver took to the end zone for a 73-yard TD in the third quarter. Jayon Brown picked off a batted pass, setting up Gostkowski. Then Derrick Henry capped a 12-play drive with a 1-yard TD with 10:13 left to set up the late drama.
The Titans had the chance for another late win after Amani Hooker intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass to Smith-Schuster in the back of the end zone with 2:35 left. It was Roethlisberger’s third of the game, which Tennessee turned into only a field goal.
Gostkowski had won the first three games this season for Tennessee with late field goals.
“It was a gut punch to see that kick go wide right,” Tannehill said. “Had a ton of confidence going out there that Stephen was going to nail that kick. Unfortunately, obviously, it was a little bit wide.”
Gostkowski said the kick was headed down the middle until it faded right late.
“Just very disappointed to let the team down like that,” Gostkowski said. “I was confident going out there but didn’t get it done.”
Pittsburgh dominated early with a 161-1 edge in total offence before the Titans’ second offensive possession. The Steelers led 24-7 at halftime.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time in 23 games, going 75 yards over 16 plays. Roethlisberger had his 1-yard TD pass to James Conner wiped out by penalty so he hit Johnson for an 11-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.
Snell Jr. capped the Steelers’ second drive for a 14-0 lead.
Steelers defensive end Chris Wormley was hurt early in the fourth. Johnson went to the sideline after a key third-down catch late in the game with what he called a bruised ankle. He missed last week’s game with a back injury.
Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney hurt his left knee early in the third quarter but returned. Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton hurt a knee late in the first half.
Pittsburgh came in with an NFL-high 24 sacks and had two more, extending its streak to 63 straight games with at least one sack. That’s the longest active streak in the league and second-longest in NFL history — Tampa Bay went 69 straight games with at least one sack from Oct. 10, 1999, to Nov. 9, 2003. But they did snap a streak of six straight games with at least three or more sacks that dated to the 2019 season finale and had tied for longest in franchise history.
The Titans came in with the NFL’s worst defence on third down, and they allowed Pittsburgh to convert their first seven. The Steelers finished 13 of 18 for a 72% conversion rate.
Steelers: Visit Baltimore in a game rescheduled because of the Titans’ outbreak with the Ravens coming off their bye.
Titans: Visit Cincinnati in their first road game since Sept. 27.
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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon
The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.
“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”
Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.
The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.
In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.
–Field Level Media
Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.
As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.
Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.
The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.
Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.
Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.
As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.
“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”
-Field Level Media
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