PITTSBURGH (AP) — The end is creeping up on Ben Roethlisberger. There have been times this season when the 35-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback looks every bit his age, and plays like it, too.
Just not under the lights. Never under the lights.
For all the heaping amounts of “blah” the NFL’s highest-paid offense has provided during a solid if somewhat unspectacular start to the season, something about playing at home at night brings out the best in Roethlisberger.
Fueled by a halftime pep talk from Roethlisberger that stressed enough was enough, a team that’s spent much of the season talking a good game but rarely playing a complete one lived up to its own considerable hype. Roethlisberger threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns , three in the second half, as the Steelers ran away from the mistake-prone Tennessee Titans 40-17 on Thursday night.
“Was it our best game? No,” Roethlisberger said after Pittsburgh (8-2) won its fifth straight. “Was it better? Yeah.”
Much better. Roethlisberger improved to 18-3 in prime-time home games during his career and has 24 touchdowns against just two interceptions in his last seven prime-time starts at Heinz Field.
“Anytime you play with a guy like Ben in a prime-time setting, you know the playmaking ability is going to be up,” said wide receiver Antonio Brown, who caught 10 passes for 144 yards and three scores. “You know the splash plays are going to be there and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
A matchup that looked like it could go either way after Marcus Mariota hit Rishard Matthews for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half drew the Titans within 16-14, the Steelers responded with touchdowns on three consecutive drives.
The red zone issues that have dogged them for long stretches vanished. Working out of the no-huddle extensively, Roethlisberger picked apart Tennessee over the final two quarters, completing 20 of 23 passes for 185 yards and three scores in the second half to win going away.
“It did feel great today to show what we’re capable of and put up 40 points,” said Brown. “That was a pretty good feeling.”
One that played in stark contrast to the sometimes angsty locker room in recent weeks as the Steelers stacked unimpressive win after unimpressive win. It’s not that they were complaining about their success, it’s just that they’re well aware it was nowhere near the standard they’ve set.
Consider their dominant second-half a massive step closer.
“We’re a hungry group that still has a lot to prove,” defensive end Cam Heyward said. “We’re chasing ghosts.”
Tennessee’s shot at its first five-game winning streak since 2009 ended under a cascade of sacks and interceptions . Quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for a touchdown and ran for another but was also picked off a career-high four times as the Titans (6-4) fell a half-game behind Jacksonville in the AFC South.
“If you throw four interceptions, it’s tough to win,” Mariota said.
Not that Mariota had a ton of time. He was sacked five times and spent the majority of the second half under heavy duress. The Titans also lost a chance to get back within two points in the third quarter when usually reliable tight end Delanie Walker dropped a potential touchdown pass. Tennessee settled for a field goal to pull within 23-17 and never scored again.
“We had opportunities to make it more of a game and we just failed to do so,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “The dam kind of broke in the second half because of all of the mistakes.”
LOOK MA, ONE HAND
Brown’s second career three-touchdown game highlighted the unique skills that made him the fastest player in NFL history to reach 700 receptions.
He leapt between two defenders in the first quarter to haul in a 41-yard rainbow from Roethlisberger. In the third he dropped a difficult pass between two Titans in the end zone but atoned minutes later when he jumped to pull in a 5-yard score.
Brown’s best grab of the night and probably the season came in the fourth quarter when he briefly pinned a Roethlisberger pass to his helmet before securing it for a 10-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.
Rookie teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster dropped to his knees to bow to Brown, even though the sight of Brown making the unlikely likely has become commonplace.
“Greatness,” Martavis Bryant said of Brown. “I mean, 84 is going to be 84 regardless of who he is going against or what he’s doing. He handles himself like that. He carries himself like that. He had a great game.”
Roethlisberger borrowed a line from a popular Bud Light beer commercial when microphones caught him yelling “Dilly Dilly” during his pre-snap cadence. The offensive line adopted the phrase in recent weeks, and Roethlisberger opted to try it out as his answer to Peyton Manning’s famous “Omaha” call.
Titans: Visit Indianapolis on Nov. 26. Tennessee beat the Colts 36-22 on Oct. 16 to start the four-game streak that ended at Heinz Field.
Steelers: Welcome the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 26, the second of four straight prime-time games.