Steelers notebook: Finally, the bye week is on tap
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Steelers will sit out Week 12 of the regular season, as they and the Carolina Panthers finally take their bye weeks. They are the only two teams that have yet to be off this season.
This is the latest the Steelers have taken a bye week. Last year, they sat out Week 5 after losing their first four games. The Steelers players are scheduled to be off Thursday through Sunday; the NFL labor agreement mandates four consecutive days off during a bye week.
The Steelers play again Nov. 30 at home against the New Orleans Saints (4-6), who are tied for the NFC South lead despite their record.
“We couldn’t lose going into the bye,” tackle Kelvin Beachum said after the come-from-behind 27-24 win at Tennessee. “We had to win this one.”
Practice squad offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, the former West Point wide receiver and Army Ranger, not only accompanied the Steelers to Nashville, he took part in the pregame coin flip. And he was presented a game ball afterward.
Ben Roethlisberger brought up Villanueva’s name in the huddle before the Steelers mounted their game-winning drive in the fourth quarter that ended with his 12-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown.
“You could tell the energy from the guys, when Ben came into the huddle that last series and gave us a little speech — he looked at everybody’s face and we knew we wanted to win this game,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “Do it for Al and everybody like Al who serves our country.”
Villanueva was not in uniform and has not been on the active roster this season. But the NFL is saluting the military this month, and coach Mike Tomlin wanted him recognized.
Villanueva, who hasn’t played in five seasons, served three tours in Afghanistan.
Pick six makes history
Dick LeBeau is 19-2 when his Steelers defenses oppose a rookie quarterback, and they showed why on the very first Titans play from scrimmage.
Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger got off a poor throw, and second-year wide receiver Justin Hunter appeared to run a soft route. That allowed cornerback William Gay to race in from behind, intercept the pass and score untouched from 28 yards with 4:23 gone in the game.
Gay’s interception return score was his second of the season and the Steelers’ third; Brice McCain also had one in Jacksonville. The Steelers also had three last season.
The team record is five in a season, in 1987. Gay’s score also was the 100th interception return TD in team history.
The Steelers came in No. 4 in the NFL in total offense and No. 4 in passing, but were held to one touchdown or fewer offensively in four of their first five road games. The only time previously they broke out offensively on the road was their 37-19 win at Carolina on Sept. 21; they didn’t get into the end zone offensively Monday until they scored twice in the fourth quarter.
Their other road point totals: Ravens (6), Browns (10), Jets (13) and Jaguars (17). One of their two touchdowns at Jacksonville came on a McCain interception return.
Getting his kicks
Titans kicker Ryan Succop made a 20-yard field goal early in the second quarter. The Steelers probably wish he were that accurate on a kick that would have sent them to the playoffs last season.
Succop was the Chiefs kicker who missed a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining in the final game of the season last year against the Chargers. Had the kick gone through, the Steelers would have made the playoffs as a wild-card team.
The day after the game, the NFL acknowledged the game officials failed to flag the Chargers for lining up seven defenders on one side of the line of scrimmage on the missed kick.
Ben’s good for 50
Roethlisberger came into the game with a little-known NFL all-time best.
He’s completed at least half of his passes in 90 consecutive games, the best such mark in NFL history. He went 21 of 32 for 207 yards.
During the first half, Brown went over the 1,100-yard receiving mark for the second successive season. Mike Wallace (2010-11) and Hines Ward (2002-03) are the only other two Steelers receivers to exceed 1,100 yards in consecutive seasons.