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Kings of the AFC: Titans defeat Steelers 31-14

The AFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Nashville.

The Tennessee Titans clinched home-field advantage with a statement 31-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Led by an efficient showing by QB Kerry Collins and an Albert Haynesworth-like effort from rookie DE/DT Jason Jones, the Titans scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to seal the victory.

More thoughts on today’s monumental Titan victory, after the jump.

Game balls

With apologies to Justin Gage (more about him later), I’ll award this week’s offensive game ball to the game manager himself, Kerry Collins.

The veteran Collins wasn’t rattled by the pressure of the vaunted Pittsburgh defense, as he sat in the pocket and completed 20/29 passes for 216 yards and a score. He became the first quarterback in 2008 to attain a 100 QB rating against the league’s #1 ranked defense.

On defense, let’s give a big round of applause (and a game ball) to rookie DE/DT Jason Jones. JJ did a great job of playing the Albert Haynesworth role, sacking Big Ben 3.5 times while forcing 3 fumbles.

Jones, who was drafted in the 2nd round by the Titans as a result of his great motor, relentless work ethic and enough athleticism to be a basketball star in high school, is poised to become a solid player in the NFL for years to come.

For special teams, let’s give some credit to a gutty but effective performance by veteran P Craig Hentrich.  Despite often kicking in the teeth of a gusting wind, Hentrich placed two of his seven punts inside of the Steelers’ 20.

Some big plays from William Hayes

In addition to Jason Jones’ exploits, fellow rookie William “Big Plays” Hayes also made his presence felt against the Steelers. The rookie from tiny Winston Salem State notched a sack while also forcing a fumble.

Not a bad showing for the player that in the mind of so-called “draft guru” Mel Kiper, was the 66th best DE in last year’s draft.

Michael Griffin says, “Take that, Pro Bowl Voters!”

Despite not being selected to the Pro Bowl, Griff continues to make plays. He had two interceptions today, with one of them being returned for a touchdown that served as the proverbial final nail in Pittsburgh’s coffin.

It’s only a matter of time before Griffin gets recognized as being one of the game’s better safeties.

Justin Gage comes up big

In our recent question and answer exchange with Steel Tradition, I mentioned Gage as a guy who had the potential to make plays against a Steeler defense that was geared to stop Smash and Dash.

Gage came through with a great outing, catching 5 passes for 104 yards, including a 34-yard TD-strike from Kerry Collins.

Final thoughts

-Keith Bulluck was all over the field, as evidenced by his 13 tackles (10 solo, 3 assisted).

Like Griff, Bulluck was also snubbed by Pro Bowl voters. That’s ok though, because he’s well respected in league circles and tremendously loved by Tennessee Titan fans.

-Chris Johnson is pretty good at TD celebrations.

Earlier in the year, he pounded the bongos against the Chiefs and today, after scoring on a 4th and 1 play, Johnson mimicked the Steelers’ fans’ tradition of waving their terrible towels by waving his “touchdown towel.”

-The Titans did a great job of neutralizing Pittsburgh’s great pass rush, as they limited Dick LeBeau’s troops to only one sack on the afternoon.

I bet Big Ben wishes he had an offensive line like the Titans’.

-Speaking of Ben, he turned the ball over four times (two fumbles, two interceptions). The opportunistic Titan defense took full advantage of Ben’s miscues, converting those turnovers into 21 points.

How gracious of you, Ben!

-The Titans became the first team to gain over 300 total yards against the Steelers in 2008. That’s impressive, considering that the Steelers have already faced the dynamic offenses of the Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants and Eagles.

What are your thoughts on the Titans’ statement victory?