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What we learned from Steelers, Titans wins on Monday night

In the aftermath of a lost 2019 season, Ben Roethlisberger made his return to the Pittsburgh Steelers helm on Monday night. But it was the steel seven first-round picks on the Pittsburgh defense that were the highlight in Monday night’s opener and led the Steelers to a season-opening 26-16 win over the New York Giants. Thereafter it was the miscues of Stephen Gostkowski that told the tale for most of the night until the former Patriots standout booted the Tennessee Titans to a 16-14 win over the Denver Broncos to end the evening.

Pittsburgh Steelers 26, New York Giants 16

1) Briefly at the onset, the Giants offense flashed its potential, going right at a much-ballyhooed Steelers defense on the opening drive of the night. After it was forced to punt, New York’s offense was gifted the ball back at its 3-yard line, but it proved only to be a showcase for the real Pittsburgh D to stand up. The Steelers held the Giants to a field goal and set the tone for the evening ahead in the process. Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and the bunch flashed brilliance and potential, but were unable to sustain it. The Steelers defense was ferocious throughout – shaking off a picturesque Jones-to-Darius Slayton TD and a highlight-reel Barkley catch-and-run – to flex its might. Led by their steel seven first-round picks, the Steelers led the league in sacks and takeaways last season and had three and two, respectively, Monday. Perhaps no play was more emphatic than when Jones was commanding an odyssey of a 19-play drive, but was pressured by Bud Dupree and floated up a ball that Cam Heyward came crashing down with. The Giants had negative-3 yards in the first half, 29 for the whole 60 and held Barkley to a meager six on 15 rushes. Pittsburgh’s defense is brilliant chaos and showed that for four quarters on Monday.

2) With a healed-up elbow and a new season to forget about the last, this was Ben Roethlisberger’s return. It was hardly the Roethlisberger of old, though – at least in the early going. He looked anxious early and his rushed passes were off target. Nonetheless, the Steelers are the Steelers with him at the helm and the offense offered more hope of what may become in one game than at anytime last year. All-around swell fellow JuJu Smith-Schuster (six catches for 69 yards and two TDs; great offensive fumble recovery) provided the most reason for Steelers smiles with a showing that looked far more like his 2018 campaign than his forgettable 2019. With James Conner injured, Benny Snell (19 carries for 113 yards) filled in nicely. And Roethlisberger’s return saw him toss three scores (which reads better than it often looked). The defense shined for Pittsburgh, but the offense looks to be warming up.

3) In the shadow of Roethlisberger’s return, credit is warranted for the Giants defense. A porous unit a season ago, Big Blue’s defense held strong for the most part on Monday. Saquon is the leading man and Danny Dimes is a co-headliner as it goes with the Big Blue marquee, but the defense turned in a solid showing. New LB Blake Martinez tallied a game-high 12 tackles, Leonard Williams got plenty of pressure and the Giants gave nothing away. If the offense is able to garner more consistency, the Big Blue defense can surprise some folks.

4) Though the Chiefs were able to keep most of their Super Bowl band together, they did release punter Dustin Colquitt. Debuting for the Steelers, Colquitt showed he’s still a top-tier ball striker in the league as he averaged 45.8 yards on four punts with a long of 59 and one inside the 20.

Tennessee Titans 16, Denver Broncos 14

1) From seemingly certain unemployment to redemption, Stephen Gostkowski fluttered a 25-yard field goal that was most certainly not a chip shot. It was his first field goal make of an increasingly hard-to-watch night and it lifted the Titans to a 16-14 win over the Broncos late in the Denver night. Solid defense and all-too-often bumbling offenses collided in the Monday nightcap that stumbled along into an endless night. What didn’t happen was more prevalent than what did as the Titans missed on a potential 10 points due to a cringe-worthy Gostkowski showing and the Broncos fumbled four times. But as the evening plodded along, it certainly favored the Titans and their one-man locomotive named Derrick Henry. Henry rumbled for 116 yards on 31 carries with his final carry, a five-yarder to the 1-yard-line, eventually setting up Gostkowski’s sigh of sweet relief. It was Henry’s 14th 100-yard game and the Titans are 14-0 in those instances. Though he won’t be in most headlines, once more as Henry goes, so too do the Titans. It was an uncharacteristic night for all, with Ryan Tannehill throwing it 43 times. But with the shaky leg of Gostkowski and the forever stout legs of Henry, Tennessee is 1-0.

2) As the regular season beckoned with Melvin Gordon joining the Broncos rushing corps and complimenting Phillip Lindsay, it seemed as if Denver might well have an embarrassment of riches in the backfield. But on Monday, Gordon sputtered early, losing a fumble and Lindsay limped away with an injured foot – his status still uncertain. However, the Broncos’ newest back flashed his old form in the second half. Gordon, corralled for just 28 yards on seven carries through three quarters, finished with 15 carries for 78 yards after a spirited fourth-quarter surge that included a go-ahead one-yard score in the fourth quarter. A win wasn’t to be for the Broncos, but what could become of the Gordon-led rushing attack is promising at the least.

3) With Courtland Sutton (and second-round rookie WR K.J. Hamler) inactive for the opener, there was no doubt concern for the Broncos’ passing game. But burgeoning talent isn’t exactly in short supply for the Broncos. Noah Fant became BFFs with Drew Lock in the first half on Monday, catching the team’s first TD of the year. Fant finished with team-highs of five catches for 81 yards, while Lock looked good with 216 yards and the score on 22-of-33 passing. In puzzling fashion, Fant didn’t catch a ball in the second half. Lock’s going to need consistent weapons and options. First-round pick Jerry Jeudy and four grabs for 56 yards, but two huge drops. Jeudy’s trust grasp and Sutton and Hamler’s talents will need to return. But Fant certainly looked like the first-round talent he is (at least in the opening half). 

4) Gostkowski had never missed three field goals in a game until his Titans debut. He left a potential 10 points on the board. Though 2018 first-round pick Rashaan Evans is still a youngster, the Titans are an experienced squad. Evans’ night ended in the first quarter when he decked Broncos TE Jake Butt with a right. It was a quick shot and a quick fuse and something that can’t happen for a team fresh off an AFC Championship Game run. Gostkowski, previously a clutch kicker for years with the Patriots, might still have just made a Titans cameo with a trio of missed field goals, despite delivering the game-winning shot. This is a team built on a strong running game, an error-free passing attack and sturdy defense. As Tennessee looks to remain a winner and sustain success, it needs to act accordingly and not bestow opponents with opportunities off their own miscues. This was an ugly game for the most part and an uncharacteristic performance by the Titans.

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