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Steelers show their flaws on way to staying perfect

Few expected the blowout that was developing between the AFC’s only unbeaten teams, but the Pittsburgh Steelers barely avoided flushing a 20-point lead in the second half to Tennessee.

Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed a 45-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 19 seconds remaining as the Steelers held on for a 27-24 victory in Nashville for their first 6-0 start since their 1978 Super Bowl championship season.

“We talked about it all week, we knew they wouldn’t flinch” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “They’ve been in these type of games, more than we have, to be honest … and it showed.

“Thankfully our guys didn’t blink and were able to hold it together and make enough plays to secure victory. We’re not a perfect product, we understand that. But we are perfect from a record standpoint and we respect that.”

Tomlin’s perfect team will face a key AFC North clash next week at Baltimore (5-1). The win over the previously undefeated Titans (5-1) game marked only the sixth since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 played between teams that were 5-0 or better in Week 7 or later. The previous five winners of those games all advanced to the Super Bowl.

“This was clearly the best team we’ve played to this point, and if we didn’t play our best we were going to lose,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.

Ben Roethlisberger flipped two touchdown passes to Diontae Johnson (nine catches, 80 yards) as Pittsburgh grabbed a 27-7 lead with 10:26 left in the third quarter.

Steelers
Diontae Johnson is congratulated by Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.Getty Images

Big Ben also was picked off three times, however, including one by Tennessee safety Amani Hooker in the end zone with 2:40 remaining in regulation after the Titans had scored 17 straight points to close within three.

“It’s a gut punch,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “Obviously we didn’t play well early in the game, but we battled back and guys never stopped believing. The defense made some huge plays with interceptions, and gave us an opportunity, and we were able to score some points and put ourselves in a position to tie it up with the field goal at the end.

“But it doesn’t come down to [Gostkowski]. There’s a lot that I could have done better and things we can do better as an offense throughout the game so that we’re not in that situation at the end.”

Hot In Cleveland

In one of several games Sunday that came down to the final seconds, Baker Mayfield and the Browns overcame a few weeks of turmoil — and a potentially serious knee injury to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — to pull out a 37-34 win over Cincinnati.

Mayfield, the No. 1-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, connected on five touchdown passes for the first time in his three seasons with the Browns, highlighted by a back-shoulder throw to rookie wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for the go-ahead score with 11 seconds remaining.

This year’s No. 1-overall pick, Bengals rookie Joe Burrow (406 yards had given the Bengals (1-5-1) a 34-31 lead with his third scoring pass of the game — a 3-yarder to Giovani Bernard with 1:06 to go.

“[Backup quarterback] Case [Keenum] and I were talking, we said they left us too much time. When we got on the field, everybody was saying we needed to get to around the 30 for the [game-tying] field goal. I told the guys ‘screw that, we’re gonna win it.’ ”

Gurley, Man

How’s this for a new way for the Falcons to lose?

Atlanta running back Todd Gurley attempted to go down at the 1-yard line to run down the clock and set up the winning field goal but his momentum carried him into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:04 remaining.

That left enough time for Matthew Stafford to lead the Detroit Lions down the field for an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson and Matt Prater’s extra point as time expired for a 23-22 win over the Falcons (1-6).

“I was mad as hell,” Gurley said. “I was trying not to, my momentum took me in. … It was just one of those unfortunate situations I’ve been in. That’s the point of going down, not being able to put the ball in the hands of someone like Matt Stafford. He’s known for comebacks, and he once again showed why he’s an elite quarterback in this league.”

It marked the 30th fourth-quarter comeback victory for Stafford, who finished with 340 passing yards for the Lions (3-3).

Pat All, Folks?

The Patriots are 2-4 for the first time since 2000 — Bill Belichick’s first season in New England — after getting smoked 33-6 by former Pats draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers in his return to Foxboro.

Running back Jeffrey Wilson ran for 112 on 17 carries and scored three touchdowns, and Garoppolo threw for 278 as San Francisco improved to 4-3.

Cam Newton was intercepted three times and was held to 98 yards on 15 pass attempts before Belichick replaced him with Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter. It marked the second-worst loss in Belichick’s 21 years with the Pats, who finished 5-11 after opening 2-4 in 2000 in their most recent losing season.

The Hurt Locker

Dallas quarterback Andy Dalton suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Washington linebacker Jon Bostic in the Cowboys’ 25-3 loss. Washington safety Landon Collins left the game with what NFL Network reported is believed to be a torn Achilles.

Another former Giant, Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., will undergo an MRI on Monday after suffering a knee injury in the first quarter while making a tackle on an interception by Cincinnati cornerback Darius Phillips. NFL Network reported that early indications were that OBJ suffered a “major” injury.

Jaguars running back Ryquell Armstead is not expected to play again this season due to serious complications and “significant respiratory issues” from COVID-19, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported.

Other injuries: Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook (knee), Texans cornerback Bradley Roby (knee) and linebacker Kyle Emanuel (head), 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel (hamstring), Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion).

Post Patterns

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 33 of 45 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-20 win for Tampa Bay (5-2) over Las Vegas (3-3). Brady also moved one TD pass ahead of Saints quarterback Drew Brees for first on the all-time list with 559. … Brees tossed two scoring strikes and running back Alvin Kamara totaled 148 scrimmage yards as New Orleans (4-2) posted a 27-24 win over Carolina (3-4). … Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 283 yards and four TDs, including two to Davante Adams (13 receptions, 196 yards), as Green Bay (5-1) bounced back from last week’s blowout loss to Tampa with a 35-20 win over Houston (1-6). … Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle returned a kickoff 102 yards in the second quarter as Kansas City (6-1) cruised to a snowy 43-16 win at Denver (2-4). … Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had a career-high 347 passing yards and three TDs for his first NFL victory as Los Angeles moved to 2-4 with a 39-29 win over Jacksonville (1-6). … Former Jets running back Le’Veon Bell had six carries for 39 yards in his Chiefs debut.

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