Pickett hits Johnson for late touchdown as the Steelers slip past Levis, Titans 20-16

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Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) and quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) celebrate a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the second half of an NFL football game Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Matt Freed)

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers know their margin for error is impossibly thin. They know no other way.

The tighter the finish, the more the team they believe they can be — a team that rarely, if ever, shows itself for four quarters — emerges.

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“You can't get nervous,” running back Jaylen Warren said. “We're not ones to fold. When the pressure builds, we love it. We love it.”

Sure looks like it.

Kenny Pickett threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson with 4:02 to go and Pittsburgh's defense turned away Tennessee rookie quarterback Will Levis twice in the final minutes as the Steelers rallied for a 20-16 victory on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh (5-3) bounced back from a dismal loss to Jacksonville on Sunday by doing what it has done so well for so long: hanging around long enough to pull it out in the end.

Four of Pittsburgh's five wins this season have come in games they trailed entering the fourth quarter. All five of Pittsburgh's victories have come by eight points or less.

“The fact that we continue to find ways to win, I think is a huge advantage to us,” said Pickett, who threw for 190 yards and the winning score while playing with aching ribs. “No one panics down the stretch. We all are confident in each other.”

Pickett struggled at times while completing 19 of 30 but found Johnson for 32 yards down the sideline on the go-ahead drive then hit him again on a little out to Johnson just beyond the goal line for the receiver's first touchdown reception since Jan. 3, 2022, a span of 23 games.

“It was a big deal to get him in the end zone,” Pickett said. “It’s been too long for sure.”

Johnson finished with seven receptions for 90 yards. Warren added 112 total yards — including a burst over the right side for 22 yards on the winning drive. Najee Harris had 76 total yards and a touchdown as the Steelers continued a startling trend. Pittsburgh is the 29th team since 1970 to be outgained in each of its first eight games and the only one to have a winning record in spite of it.

“Obviously we're not satisfied with where we are,” Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We just need to continue to improve and eliminate problems as quickly as possible.”

Levis played well in his second NFL start but couldn't match the electricity of his first, a four-touchdown masterpiece against Atlanta. Levis threw for 262 yards but his 39th and final pass ended up being the first interception of his career when Steelers linebacker Kwon Alexander picked off a pass at the goal line with 6 seconds remaining to seal it.

“It’s so hard to win games and you have an opportunity like that to win it at the end and it doesn’t happen, it makes you feel a whole lot worse,” Levis said. “Credit to them. they made the plays when they needed to and we didn’t.”


Titans wide receiver Treylon Burks was carted off the field with just over 2 minutes to go when he landed hard on the Acrisure Stadium turf after unsuccessfully trying to haul in a fourth-down heave from Levis.

The second-year pro lay on the field for several minutes while being tended to by medical staff from both teams. Burks was alert and moving in the training room after the game.

“It's probably better than how it looked,” Vrabel said.


The Steelers moved embattled offensive coordinator Matt Canada from the coaching box to the sideline in hopes of helping provide a spark to a unit that began the night near the bottom of the league in every meaningful statistical category.

The immediate returns were encouraging. The Steelers ran for a season-high 166 yards and scored a touchdown on the opening possession for the first time all season.


Steelers first-round pick Broderick Jones fit in seamlessly while making his first NFL start at right tackle. Jones was noticeable during a handful of longer runs and helped clear the lane for Harris on his 10-yard touchdown sprint in the first quarter.

Second-round pick Joey Porter Jr. asked Tomlin during the week for the chance to shadow Titans star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. A week after reaching the end zone three times against Atlanta, Hopkins was limited to four receptions for 60 yards despite being targeted a game-high 11 times.

“I was just like, ‘he’s got to see me,'” Porter said. “I just try to go in there with that chip on my shoulder and give him that good work.”


Titans: Four different Tennessee offensive linemen — left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, left guard Peter Skoronski, right guard Daniel Brunskill and tackle Andre Dillard — had to be helped off the field at some point during the game. All but Petit-Frere (shoulder) returned. ... CB Sean Murphy-Bunting left in the first half with a thumb injury.

Steelers: Lost defensive tackle Montravius Adams to an ankle injury in the first quarter. Inside linebacker Cole Holcomb was carted off in the first quarter with what appeared to be a serious left knee injury.


Titans: Continue a three-game road trip when they travel to Tampa Bay on Nov. 12.

Steelers: Finish up a three-game homestand on Nov. 12 when Green Bay visits.


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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