Steelers drop opener, 16-9



Steelers' record: 0-1
One year ago: 0-1
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 44-32

Following a preseason that included a 28.8 percent third down conversion rate, an average of six-plus penalties a game, a 30 percent red zone efficiency rate that had them ranked 29th in the NFL, two blocked kicks, and seven turnovers, Coach Bill Cowher knew what he wanted to see in the regular season opener. "To do the things you need to do to be solid in September football: to minimize our penalties, to not have negative plays on offense, to minimize big plays on defense; and to understand the gravity of situational football. This game is going to be decided on those special plays – third downs, red zone, goal line."

On this afternoon, it wasn't so much a single play, but an early series that changed the course of the game for the Steelers, and maybe in retrospect it comes to be identified as one that changed the course of their 2013 season. After the free kick following the safety on the opening kickoff that gave the Steelers a 2-0 lead, a series of disasters struck. First, it was a perfect pass from Ben Roethlisberger that went through Emmanuel Sanders' hands about 40 yards down the field; then it was an apparent season-ending knee injury to Maurkice Pouncey on a play in which he appeared to be hit by David DeCastro; and then after gaining the necessary yards to convert a third-and-1 from the Titans 6-yard line, Isaac Redman lost the football and it was recovered in the end zone by Moise Fokou for a touchback.

Mike Tomlin was trying to become the first coach in Steelers history to win his first seven home openers, but that didn't happen, and the loss to the Titans dropped his overall record in openers to 4-3. Chuck Noll was 16-7 in home openers and 14-9 overall. Bill Cowher was 9-7 in home openers and 8-7 overall.

* It was the opening kickoff of the 2013 season, and while it appeared as though Shaun Suisham mis-hit the ball, it ended up working out well for the Steelers. The ball bounced through the Titans kickoff return team and rolled to Darius Reynaud, who was the deep man in the formation. Reynaud fielded the ball at the 1-yard line and then backed up and took a knee in the end zone. That made it a safety and a 2-0 lead for the Steelers.

  • What highlights there were for the Steelers in the first half were mainly of the statistical variety. LaMarr Woodley recorded the team's first sack of the season; Ben Roethlisberger converted 4-of-7 third downs; Jarvis Jones had a tackle in the backfield on a running play by Chris Johnson.
  • With a little more than 12 minutes left in the game and the Steelers trailing, 10-2, Zoltan Mesko hit a 43-yard punt and Curtis Brown was there to make an immediate tackle, which made the Titans begin their possession at their own 12-yard line.

* Following the free kick that comes with a safety, the Steelers set up for their opening offensive possession at their own 41-yard line. On play-action, Ben Roethlisberger set up and threw deep down the right side to Emmanuel Sanders, who was in single coverage with CB Jason McCourty. The ball was thrown perfectly, and it went through Sanders' hands at the Titans' 15-yard line for a long incompletion.

  • After months and months of talking about the importance of the starting offensive linemen being able to stay healthy through this season, the five-man unit didn't even get through the first offensive series of the season. The outcome was the worst of all possible scenarios. The player to be injured was Maurkice Pouncey, and the injury was to his right knee.
  • There seemed to be no end to the bad things happening to the Steelers on their opening offensive possession. Even though Roethlisberger converted three third downs, and even though Jerricho Cotchery showed awareness and desire to stretch for the necessary yardage to convert one of those, the possession ended badly. On a third-and-1 from the Tennessee 6-yard line, Isaac Redman fumbled after appearing the get the necessary yardage, and the ball was recovered in the end zone by the Titans for a touchback.
  • Special teams penalties cost the Steelers field position on two occasions through the game's first 32 minutes. An illegal block in the back penalty on Jason Worilds was the difference between a possession starting at the Pittsburgh 31-yard line instead of the 47-yard line, and a holding penalty on Shamarko Thomas had the Steelers begin their second possession of the third quarter on their own 9-yard line.
  • After the Titans' field goal that gave them a 13-2 lead, Markus Wheaton fielded the ensuing kickoff 5 yards deep in the end zone and hesitated momentarily before deciding to bring the ball out. He returned it only 13 yards to force the offense to begin the possession at the 8-yard line.

The list is a rather long one, and the injuries on the list are significant ones. According to Coach Mike Tomlin, Maurkice Pouncey tore the MCL and ACL in his right knee and will need surgery, and Larry Foote tore a biceps and will need surgery as well. Tomlin said that his postgame assumption is that both players' injuries are season-ending.

Other injuries sustained in the game were to RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (right knee), CB Cortez Allen (ankle), and PK Shaun Suisham (hamstring).

The severity of the injuries to Stephens-Howling, Allen, and Suisham were not immediately known.

RB Le'Veon Bell (knee) and TE Heath Miller (knee) both were inactive for the game, and FB Will Johnson (hamstring) was in uniform but did play.

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