Steelers’ solid performance a ‘Starks’ contrast to Titans
Posted: Monday, October 10, 2011 7:02 pm
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Seven days ago, Max Starks was wondering if he’d ever play in the NFL again. A week later, he was back in a familiar spot, giving Ben Roethlisberger time to do his thing.
Starks received the game ball from Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin after the Steelers rolled over the Tennessee Titans 38-17 on Sunday. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played a game in nearly a year.
“He stepped up,” Roethlisberger said after tying a career high with five touchdown passes. “We brought him to town this week … and it’s like ‘OK, let’s see how we’re going to use him.’”
Turns out even more than Starks or the Steelers thought.
A knee injury to center Maurkice Pouncey and a shoulder injury to tackle Marcus Gilbert turned Starks’ part-time debut into a full-time gig. He played nearly every snap in his first action since hurting his neck last November.
The injury appeared to put his career in jeopardy. The team cut him after seven seasons before training camp as a cost-cutting measure. Starks spent two months getting back into shape and waiting for a call. When it came from the Steelers (3-2), he didn’t let it go to waste.
Starks practiced all of three days before starting at left tackle. He then helped Pittsburgh’s running game get going reserves Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for 156 yards in relief of injured starter Rashard Mendenhall — while holding the Titans (3-2) to just one sack.
“Our biggest goal was to keep (Roethlisberger) upright,” Starks said. “And we knew he’d perform if we did that.”
Did he ever.
Roethlisberger tied the franchise record he shares with Terry Bradshaw and Mark Malone despite a sprained left foot that forced him to wear a specialized cleat.
Though he limped at times between plays, he proved nimble enough to complete 24-of-34 passes for 228 yards while throwing two scores to Hines Ward and one each to Mike Wallace, Heath Miller and David Johnson.
“He’s an A-player,” Tomlin said. “He’s got to play (that way) in order for us to do well.”
A month into the season, the Steelers (3-2) finally looked like the team that rolled to the AFC championship a year ago. The defense, missing starters James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, held Tennessee running back Chris Johnson to 51 yards on 14 carries and sacked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck three times.
It’s the kind of performance Tomlin was looking for after watching his team get rolled in Houston a week ago. The Steelers practiced twice in pads for the first — and only — time this season and the increased workload appeared to have a carry-over effect.
“I think it sent a message that we need to play more physical,” said linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had an interception and 11⁄2 sacks. “We went out there and we brought it.”
The Titans saw their three-game winning streak snapped after letting a chance to grab early momentum get away.
Published in The Messenger 10.10.11