Saturday July 4th, 2020 7:43AM

Big Ben makes preseason debut, Steelers beat Titans 18-6

By The Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger needed three short series to show he's ready for the regular season, even though he wasn't happy the Steelers didn't score earlier.

The Tennessee Titans made it very clear protecting Marcus Mariota on a wet and ugly night was their top priority.

Roethlisberger capped his night with a 17-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Titans 18-6 Sunday night to remain perfect this preseason.

"I wasn't as crisp as I would've liked to have been, but I think we got enough accomplished," Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers (3-0) came up with four of seven sacks by halftime and had a turnover as they pummeled all three quarterbacks for the Titans (1-2). Six different Steelers had at least a sack apiece.

Roethlisberger made his preseason debut and was a bit rusty with two short series. After Stephon Tuitt sacked Mariota in the end zone for a safety, Roethlisberger then drove the Steelers 48 yards after the free kick and finished with the TD pass to Smith-Schuster.

He nearly gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead but Jaylen Samuels fell down after catching the pass on a 2-point conversion attempt. Roethlisberger spent the rest of the night watching and was 8 of 13 for 63 yards passing. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin was content with what he got out of Roethlisberger and the rest of his Steelers in their first road trip this preseason.

"Although it wasn't a complete body of work, we were able to get them some situational ball and watch them execute and do some things there, so a good night in that regard," Tomlin said.

A night after Andrew Luck retired, the Titans played safe with their starting quarterback and pulled Mariota after he was sacked for the safety on his second series. Mariota was 0 of 3, including an uncharacteristic drop by veteran Adam Humphries. That proved a smart move with backup Ryan Tannehill sacked on his third play.

"We're going to make sure we can protect our quarterback, and that's important," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "And it's imperative that we do that as a staff and we do that as an offensive group."

Pittsburgh is still trying to figure out Roethlisberger's backup, and Mason Rudolph helped himself with a 41-yard TD pass to James Washington on his first throw of the game. That put the Steelers up 15-0 after the first quarter with a 159-25 edge in total offense. Rudolph finished the first half and was 6 of 9 for 75 yards.

Joshua Dobbs took over in the third quarter and didn't get much help. One receiver was out of bounds after pushing off for offensive pass interference, and the Steelers needed review to show Trey Griffey did have control and both feet down on a catch after Dobbs scrambled to find him for a 23-yard catch. That set up a 31-yard field goal by rookie Matthew Wright.

The Titans intercepted both Rudolph and Dobbs, who was 4 of 9 for 79 yards.

TWO-SACK QUARTER

Tuitt not only got a sack and the ball back for the Steelers, the veteran going into his sixth season had two in the first quarter taking both of the Titans' top two quarterbacks down. Tuitt smothered Mariota in the end zone for the safety, then got to Tannehill on the third play of his first series. Tuitt is coming off a career-high 5 1/2 sacks last season.

"We're expecting big things from him," Tomlin said. "He's expecting big things from him. He's had a good preseason both in stadiums and out, so that was not unlike what we've been looking at from him."

SUCCOP'S RETURN

The best part of the game for Tennessee was veteran Brett Kern's punting with a 70-yarder along with kicker Ryan Succop's preseason debut. Succop had offseason knee surgery and wasn't cleared from the physically unable to perform list until Monday. He kicked a pair of field goals for the Titans' only points.

BAD MEMORIES

The Titans gave up sacks so early and often that the game started feeling like last October when Baltimore set a franchise-record with 11 sacks. Right tackle Jack Conklin said the Titans didn't come out strong and fast in the showcase game of the preseason.

"We can't have our quarterback getting hit," Conklin said. "He shouldn't have been touched nearly as many times as he did. It's definitely things we can get fixed."

UP NEXT

Steelers: Visit Carolina on Thursday night.

Titans: Visit Chicago on Thursday night.

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(This story has been updated to edit the punctuation on Titans coach Mike Vrabel's quote on protecting quarterbacks.)

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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