And they couldn't have finished any worse.
Even so, a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski with 19 seconds left preserved the Steelers' undefeated record, and Pittsburgh held on for a 27-24 win in Nashville despite a fourth-quarter collapse. With the win, the Steelers are 6-0 for the first time since 1978.
"Thankfully our guys didn't blink and was able to hold it together and make enough plays to secure a victory," coach Mike Tomlin said afterward, giving props to the Titans (5-1) in his opening statement after the win. "Not a perfect product. We understand that. But I appreciate their efforts. We are perfect from a record standpoint, and so we respect that."
After throwing just one interception in the first five games, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (32-of-49, 268 yards, 2 TDs) was picked off three times Sunday, including on an attempt to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was defended by a linebacker, with less than three minutes to play. The Steelers were up by just three at the time and in the midst of a 16-play drive that kept the Titans and running back Derrick Henry off the field. It was the same recipe that worked in the first half, but instead of ending a long, grinding drive with a score, Smith-Schuster bobbled the ball, and Amani Hooker came down with it to give his team a window to work its fourth-quarter magic.
"It's NFL football," Tomlin said. "We play to win. We don't live in our fears. Is it a combat play? Is it tight? Yes, we have a quarterback that's been doing that for 17 years.
"Sometimes you've just got to acknowledge that they made the play in the moment and we desire to, and that's why we're not going to live in our fears. We're going to go in those instances to secure victory."
The Titans' ensuing drive ended with an opportunity to force overtime with Gostkowski's field goal attempt, but it sailed wide right, and Roethlisberger, who watched incredulously from the sideline, came out for the victory formation.
"We feel we have a really good football team, right?" said Roethlisberger, whose team takes on the 5-1 Ravens in Baltimore next Sunday. "We feel that it could be very special and we're happy with where we are right now, but that's going to be a short-lived happiness because we know what's coming up next."
The Titans staged their second-half comeback as the Steelers struggled to replicate the recipe that worked in the first half, during which they grinded out long drives to keep Henry on the sideline, and swallowing him up with tackles behind the line of scrimmage when he was on the field.
After winning the coin toss, the Steelers elected to receive the ball and went on a 9-minute, 18-second drive that ended with a Diontae Johnson touchdown, marking their first opening-drive TD since Week 15 of the 2018 season against the Patriots.
The defense complemented the score with a three-and-out to hand the ball right back to the offense for another long scoring drive, putting the Steelers up 14-0.
"That was five-star ball," Tomlin said. "That's a good group. Guys like JuJu and others stepped up and made those plays, but you got to tip your cap to Tennessee. They made those plays, combat catches with tight coverage."
Including the playoffs, Roethlisberger is 98-1-1 in his career in games in which the Steelers have a 14-point lead, the only loss coming in Week 13 of 2018 vs. the Chargers and the tie in Week 1 of that same season at the Browns.
The Steelers capitalized on the Titans' below-average third-down defense, converting 8 of 9 attempts for their highest third-down conversion percentage in a half over the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. With that formula, the Steelers scored on each of their first four possessions to build a dominating 24-7 lead at halftime, and after the break, they added a field goal to make it 27-7.
But the Titans ripped off 17 unanswered points as Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill got things going. Tannehill hit A.J. Brown for a 73-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, and after Gostkowski hit a 51-yard field goal to close it to 10, Henry scored on a 1-yard rush to wrap up a 12-play, 70-yard drive early in the fourth quarter.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans kept the Steelers from going on the same lengthy drives that ate clock in the first half.
"I don't know that they changed anything that they did," Tomlin said of the Titans' second-half adjustments. "We had a tipped pass that got intercepted and we were penalized, some things that happen when you stop yourself. They were confident, no doubt. But I don't know that they changed anything schematically or anything substantial changed. We just got to play better. We didn't play well enough in the second half for it not to be as tight as it was."
Roethlisberger's first interception also stopped the Steelers cold on a potential scoring drive, as safety Dane Cruikshank picked him off in the end zone on the final play before halftime. On the second interception, Jeffrey Simmons tipped a Roethlisberger pass at the line of scrimmage that Jayon Brown came down with.
It wasn't a complete win, but it was a win nonetheless.
"There's a way that we like to play and there's a lot of meat on that bone, as Coach likes to say," defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. "I'm fine saying that. I believe in the guys we got, and I'm confident we can do more. I look forward to answering the call next week."