Antonio Brown, Steelers hang 40 on Titans, charge into AFC lead

PITTSBURGH -- Forget going off the top rope. Antonio Brown went off the helmet for the Pittsburgh Steelers' takedown.

Brown's one-handed dagger of a touchdown catch -- ball pressed against his dome as he fell backward -- was so good that the 10-yard score required at least three double takes.

Leave it to a prime-time game at home to get Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers back to sizzle status.

After weeks of erratic offense, the Steelers notched their biggest explosion of the season with a commanding second half in a 40-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night.

The Steelers (8-2) want home-field advantage in the playoffs. Well, this is how dangerous they can be if they get it.

"It's about time, I guess you could say," guard David DeCastro said.

There's something about prime-time games at Heinz Field that spark Big Ben, who now has at least four touchdowns in his past three night games in Pittsburgh. He's 19-3 all time in that setting.

And after a quiet 12 catches and one touchdown over the past three weeks, there was no way Brown would stay quiet for long. He caught 10 passes for 144 yards and posted his second career three-touchdown game.

Despite a curious first-half lull, the Steelers looked like the offense they drew up in the preseason: Taking what's available, Brown weaving through traffic, running back Le'Veon Bell doing a bit of everything, JuJu Smith-Schuster as the intermediate pass-catching option, and receiver Martavis Bryant and tight end Jesse James coming through with timely plays.

The only thing that was off was Bell's modest workload of 12 carries for 46 yards. Bell getting 25 or more carries usually is a recipe for Steelers victories, but such heavy lifting wasn't necessary Thursday, and Bell added nine catches for 57 yards on the night.

This was, by far, Roethlisberger's cleanest game of the season; he mixed no-huddle offense with a more balanced, calculated attack, depending on the mood. Roethlisberger's 30-of-45 passing for 299 yards was a welcome sign for Steelers fans hoping for more vintage Big Ben moments down the stretch.

Peak offensive performance came at the 1-yard line to start the fourth quarter, when James faked a missed block, Bell faked a rush and Roethlisberger went over the top to a wide-open James for the score. Perfect red zone work.

Roethlisberger challenged his offense to make plays in the second half, himself included. The 14-year veteran proceeded to complete 15 of his final 16 passes for 141 yards and three scores, relying on empty sets to get the ball out more quickly.

"I don't care if you're old or young, just someone has to step up and make a play for this team," said Roethlisberger, recalling the halftime talk. "Or else we are going to keep relying on our defense. It is time that we step up and do something. I love the way they all responded."

Brown did the rest with his ninth career game in which he had at least 100 receiving yards and at least two touchdowns, a league high since 2013. His toe-tap catch for 23 yards early in the fourth quarter might have been a body blow. But then he went and topped that with a 10-yard score on Titans cornerback Logan Ryan that will go high on Brown's career highlight reel.

Brown saw a lot of man coverage. He was pleased.

"I love it when guys bet against their guy versus me," Brown said. "I'll take that matchup all day."

The defense had a few rough moments, but it's hard to complain about forcing Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota's first career four-interception game. Mariota had six interceptions all season before Thursday. The Steelers recorded their first four-pick game since Week 11 of 1997 against the Baltimore Ravens. DE Cam Heyward (two sacks) was dominant, and CB Coty Sensabaugh held up well in replacing Joe Haden, save Rishard Matthews' 75-yard touchdown on a play with no safety help.

The Pittsburgh defense contained the run-option with the edge, applied interior pressure with Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, blitzed with linebacker Vince Williams and others, and let coverage do the rest.

The Steelers' message at halftime was clear: Make tackles.

"Tuitt and Cam really got all our pressure," linebacker Bud Dupree said.

Midway through the third, Titans TE Delanie Walker gashed the Steelers up the middle for a 42-yarder and a would-be 17-yard touchdown that he dropped in the back of the end zone. That cost the Titans four points, as they settled for a field goal to cut the lead to 23-17, but the Steelers were rolling at that point.

After all, once the Steelers get out to double-digit leads, they always protect them -- at least with Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has won 26 straight with those three when up by 10 points or more.

This resounding win suggests there might be more chances to maintain such leads.

"This team can go as far as it wants to go," Sensabaugh said.