After being lauded for its stellar work in the opening victory over the Oakland Raiders, it didn't take the Tennessee Titans special teams long to lapse back into old problems in Sunday's 19-11 loss to Pittsburgh.
How long? About as long as it took the Steelers' Antonio Brown to take a handoff from Mewelde Moore on a reverse on the opening kickoff and run 89 yards to complete the 97-yard TD return. In other words, 14 seconds.
“From the jump, what we can't give up on special teams is a kickoff,” nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “That's what Coach [Alan] Lowry and Coach [Jeff] Fisher preach, and we gave up a big play on the first one. So we were fighting an uphill battle the whole game.”
Safety Michael Griffin was on the field as well, and said he recognized something was up, but there were too many blockers on him for him to stop it.
“We alerted 21 [Moore] was deep, and 84 [Brown] was kind of up as the offset back,” he said. “We knew it was coming. I saw it coming, but I had two or three blockers and there's not too much you can do. I don't know what to do from there when you've got two people on you.”
As if Brown's touchdown wasn't enough, the Titans fumbled the ensuing kickoff when the Steelers' Stevenson Sylvester punched the ball free at the Tennessee 40-yard line, where it was recovered by Keyeron Fox at the 46.
“He just came from behind me. It's inexcusable. I don't know which one it was. I couldn't see him. I should know better, and hopefully, I'll learn from it and make sure I tuck the ball in traffic,” Mariani said.
The Titans dodged a bullet there when Steelers QB Dennis Dixon fumbled and Dave Ball recovered after a sack by Will Witherspoon.
Special teams had another chance for atonement on a punt return by Mariani, who had a 38-yard return, which could have been more had Jacob Ford been able to better secure his block on punter Daniel Sepulveda, who forced Mariani out of bounds.
“I had a lot of green grass in front of me. I saw the punter and I'll get some crap for that. I thought I could try to outrun him. It was close. I got what I could, and we'll look at it on film and see if there was more out there,” Mariani said.