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Steelers-Titans game changers: Washington burns old team

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers cornerback William Gay intercepts a pass intended for Titans receiver Justin Hunter and returns it for a touchdown during the first quarter Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers cornerback William Gay celebrates an interception return for a touchdown with defensive end Cameron Heyward during the first quarter Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.

In the NFL, it doesn’t take much to go from hero to goat. William Gay’s interception return was overshadowed when Nate Washington burnt him for an 80-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Steelers appeared to guess that the Titans would run out the clock. Instead, quarterback Zach Mettenberger went for broke after Ben Roethlisberger tossed a red zone interception for the second week in a row.

The Steelers’ 13-10 lead appeared safe until Washington slipped 10 yards behind Gay for a touchdown to give Tennessee a 17-13 lead at halftime.

The Titans were outscored by 79 points coming into the game, mostly because their quarterbacks had only 12 touchdown passes compared to nine interceptions.

Washington, a former Steeler, put a double-move on Gay, whose only chance on the play was that Mettenberger would make an errant throw with Washington streaking alone along the left sideline. The throw was on the mark, and Washington toyed with Gay as he high-stepped into the end zone.

Washington’s touchdown was a confidence booster for a rookie quarterback, who seemed unfazed after Gay’s pick six.

Defense: Gay’s return provides early hope

The Steelers talked all week of punching the Titans in the mouth early to put rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger on his heels. Cornerback William Gay said the defense had to strip Mettenberger of his confidence, thus forcing the Titans to lean on an anemic ground game.

Gay delivered a hard blow on the Titans’ first snap from scrimmage after the Steelers had taken an early 3-0 lead on a Shaun Suisham 49-yard field goal.

The Steelers had the Titans receivers locked in man coverage, partly because they wanted to challenge Mettenberger’s strong arm. The Titans didn’t mind the matchups, and they came out firing.

Mettenberger, with all of his tight ends injured, had wide receiver Justin Hunter open along the left sideline. With Gay closing quickly, the pass drifted behind Hunter.

Gay gathered in the errant pass, and sprinted 28 yards untouched for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-0 advantage. It’s exactly what the Steelers needed a week after spotting the Jets a 17-0 lead they couldn’t overcome.

Gay’s touchdown was his second of the season and third of his career. It’s the first time a Steelers player returned two interceptions for touchdown in a season since Chad Scott did in 2001.

The Steelers didn’t bait the rookie quarterback into a bad decision. The Titans got exactly what they wanted on the play, but with Gay giving only a slight cushion, the throw had to be perfect.

Gay had seen that route often during film sessions. The sideline route is something the strong-arm rookie had relied on heavily during his previous two starts for the Titans.

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