Steelers prove they can start fast just in time for Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Talking with his team the night before taking on the Tennessee Titans in their first road game since the season-opener, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made an announcement.

If he won the coin toss the next day at Nissan Stadium, the Steelers were going to receive the opening kickoff.

It was an uncharacteristic decision, one the Steelers haven't made since Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints in 2018. But Roethlisberger wanted to make a statement. He -- and his team -- can get off to a fast start, and in the process, they can declaw the Titans' rushing attack by keeping Derrick Henry on the sideline.

And that's exactly what they did on Sunday, scoring a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time since Week 15, 2018, in the 27-24 win over Tennessee to remain undefeated.

"Everyone can stop talking about scoring on opening drives and things like that," Roethlisberger said. "I came into this game and told Coach [Mike] Tomlin, ‘We're going to take the ball. We're not going to defer.'

"I told the guys last night, 'This is what we're going to do. We're going to have the ball. Let's go down the field.' We knew our [first 10 scripted plays], obviously, was going to be a lot of throws. And we went down the field and put together a pretty complete drive there on that first drive."

Roethlisberger threw the ball 12 times for 84 yards in the 16-play drive, taking 9 minutes and 18 seconds off the clock to open the game as he distributed the ball to six different pass-catchers. The Steelers also converted all four third downs in the opening drive.

And after Diontae Johnson finished the drive with his first touchdown in more than a month, the defense picked up where the offense left off and held the Titans to a single yard of offense in a three-and-out drive.

"We're exhausted right now," Roethlisberger said. "Felt like we must have run a hundred plays. But that's what happens. I think the first half -- I haven't looked at any numbers, to be honest with you, so typically the reason that drives last that long are because you're converting third downs, and I know we had some third-down conversions in the first half that we didn't quite do in the second half."

Prior to Sunday's game, the Steelers and the Titans were the only two teams to not give up points on their opponents' opening drives, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Now, just the Steelers remain as the only team to keep opponents scoreless on their first possession. By the end of the quarter, the Steelers outgained the Titans 130-1.

"We always want our defense to go on the field first, just to set the tone," wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "I think it changed the momentum. And when Ben called tails and we got tails, Ben said, ‘Y'all, let's receive.' It changed the whole tone that, you know, first drive, you go down and put points on the board and the rest is history.

"As you can see in the previous games, we always put our defense on the field first to set the tone, but we believe our offense can do the same thing."

It's the kind of fast start the Steelers need to replicate on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, who are rested after a bye week, in the biggest test for the Steelers to date. The Ravens' defense, which added defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in a trade with the Vikings last week, has allowed only the Kansas City Chiefs to score on an opening drive.

On offense, the Ravens have scored on the opening possession in four of six games, including two touchdown throws from Lamar Jackson to tight ends.

"We realize that we've got AFC North ball next week on the road," Tomlin said. "We're going to a group that has seven days' advantage on us, so there's a lot for us to be urgent about. We won't spend a lot of time celebrating this or appreciating this because it's just more work that lies ahead.

"But we like that element of the journey and we're excited about assessing what's transpired, hopefully making necessary improvements and positioning ourselves for next week's challenge."