Steelers-Titans game changers: Washington burns old team |

Steelers-Titans game changers: Washington burns old team

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.
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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.