In a contest that could have been a preview of this season's AFC Championship game, the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed in a hard-fought contest over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans. After a dominant first half, in which the Steelers scored 24 points, the Titans came back furiously in the second half, relegating the Steelers to a mere field goal.
What was we saw were players on both sides of the ball, rising to the occasion when it mattered. Yet from these players, there were a select few who rose higher than the rest.
Receiver Juju Smith-Schuster
For weeks, much of the attention has surrounded the feats and accomplishments of rookie receiver, Chase Claypool. With much of the Titans defense focused on neutralizing him, Juju Smith-Schuster stepped up in a major way, leading all Steelers receivers with 85 yards on 5 receptions. His most notable sequence came late in the fourth quarter, when he accounted for back-to-back first down receptions. For those who forgot about him, Smith-Schuster reminded everyone why he is still the team's no. 1 receiver.
Running back James Conner
In the last few weeks, James Conner has emerged as the Steelers workhorse on offense. Every yard he has gained this season, have been yards well-earned out of sheer determination. Against the Titans, he stepped up with big first-down runs and taking punishment along the way. With 82 yards in this contest, he led all rushers, including Derrick Henry. No matter what his future is with the team beyond this season, Conner has proven he belongs among the elite running backs in the NFL.
Receiver Diontae Johnson
Though his season has been slightly disrupted by injuries, Johnson came back in a big way, account for 80 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first half. At one point, he was so efficient in one-on-one coverage situations, some of the Titans defensive backs hesitated playing press coverage against him. For the Steelers to have success down the stretch, his presence will be key to more victories.
Linebacker Vince Williams
Vince Williams was, unquestionably, the most valuable player for the Steelers defense in their contest against the Titans. Williams played an instrumental role in quarterbacking the defense unit, while relegating Derrick Henry to only 75 yards on 20 carries. Everything you could ask a defender to do, Williams did it at a high level throughout the entire game. In addition to leading the team with 10 tackles, he registered a sack and a tackle for loss. His performance against the Titans was one of the best in his eight-year career.
Cornerback Cameron Sutton
With this absence of Mike Hilton due to injury, fourth-year cornerback took this game as an opportunity to shine; he did not disappoint. He was effective in coverage situations down the middle, recording two pass deflections. His ability to play both man-to-man and zone defense, is part of what has made him invaluable. Even if Hilton's absence extends, he showed that he is more than capable of contributing at a high level.
Safety Terrell Edmunds
Since his rookie season, third-year safety Terrell Edmunds received much criticism for his coverage skills. So far this season, he has shown a tremendous amount of growth in this department. In their contest against the Titans, Edmunds accounted for two passes defended, one of them in the end zone during a goalline sequence on third down. With every game, Edmunds continues to evolve, while making big plays to help his team win.