Pouncey, Foote, Stephens-Howling injured in loss
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will recover from losing their opening game.
The “24-hour rule” has been in effect for a long time with the Steelers. Whether the game was good or bad, it’s over after the tape is reviewed and preparations start for the next game.
The long-term damage in Sunday’s 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field came when two key players were injured seriously enough to require surgery.
Center Maurkice Pouncey sustained a knee injury on the first offensive series, and linebacker Larry Foote ruptured a biceps muscle in the first half of Sunday’s game.
Asked if both injuries were season-ending, coach Mike Tomlin said, “I would assume so, but that’s an assumption at this point.”
Tomlin said after the game that Pouncey injured both the MCL and ACL in his right knee. He left the field on a cart.
It appeared that teammate David DeCastro fell on Pouncey’s knee in the course of a play. Ironically, DeCastro lost half of last season to a knee injury that occurred when a teammate fell on him.
“It’s tough,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “[Pouncey] is our captain and our leader.”
Running back Isaac Redman said, “It’s going to be tough. Pouncey is the heart of our offensive line. To lose him, we’re going to have to have guys step up and, and we’re all going to have play better.”
Depth was already an issue for the Steelers’ offensive line, which was rebuilt in the offseason.
Kelvin Beachum, who backs up at virtually any position, took over at center. That affected the Steelers’ game plan, because they had offensive sets with Beachum lining up at tight end.
“When he had to go in at center, that changed,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t adjust well enough. I take responsibility for that.”
Tomlin declined to offer an evaluation of Bechum’s work at center.
“I’d have to look at the tape,” he said. “Obviously he did an admirable job under the circumstances, but tomorrow is a new day. It’s the top of the week. We’ll make the best decisions for us, globally speaking.”
Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling also left the game with a knee injury, and was sent for an MRI. There was no immediate prognosis on the severity of his injury.
The Steelers also lost cornerback Cortez Allen to an ankle sprain.
“Injuries are a part of this league,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but guys have to step in and play. It happens every year. But they’re crucial components of our team. Someone is going to have an opportunity, and someone is going to need to step up.”
Kion Wilson replaced Foote.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint a turning point, but Titans quarterback Jake Locker had no problem determining where Sunday’s game changed.
Late in the second quarter, Roethlisberger’s pass for Emmanuel Sanders was picked off by Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner near midfield.
Tennessee then drove 49 yards to score a touchdown and take a 7-2 lead into halftime.
“Right there,” Locker said. “I thought that drive was an opportunity for us. It was a defining moment in the game, in my opinion. A time like that, you can go three-and-out, and it’s like (the turnover) never happened.
“Or you can go down and score and really shift the momentum. Guys start believing and buying into what’s going on. That’s exactly what happened.”
One of the factors in the Steelers’ finishing a disappointing 8-8 and missing the playoffs last season was their inability to create turnovers.
They were shut out in that department again on Sunday.
They had a missed opportunity early in the third quarter when Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker made a 25-yard reception, but lost the ball because of Troy Polamalu’s jarring tackle.
Walker was able to recover his own fumble.
“As a defense, we want to go out there and cause some turnovers and not allow a team to run the ball so we can get after them in the pass rush a little bit,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “We didn’t do that.”
The Steelers sacked Locker only once.
Tomlin doesn’t believe the Steelers’ poor performance in the opener reflects the quality of the team.
“We’re capable,” he said. “We’re good enough to win football games. We’re good enough to win that game today, not taking anything away from the Tennessee Titans. They did a great job. We did not.”
The Steelers threw only one ball to a tight end.
David Johnson caught that pass for an 11-yard gain.
The Steelers never worked fullback Will Johnson into the offense.
“By the time we determined he was available, it was the latter part of the week,” Tomlin said. “We had a plan kind of in place. He was there if we needed him. Obviously, due to game circumstances, we didn’t get a chance to utilize him much. He did participate on special teams.”
Because of the Steelers’ inept offensive performance, new punter Zoltan Mesko established a career high with seven kicks.
He averaged 44.1 yards, but kicked one just 39 yards when the Steelers were pinned at their own 5. The punt was returned 27 yards, which helped the Titans get a 27-yard field goal that increased their lead to 16-2.
Roethlisberger’s 191 passing yards raised his career total to 30,035, making him the 35th quarterback to surpass 30,000 yards.
“It comes in a loss, so it doesn’t do anything for me,” Roethlisberger said.
He completed 21 of 33 passes (64 percent), but his passer rating was 76.7. He had only one lower passing rating (58.6 vs. Cincinnati on Dec. 23) in his 13 games last season.
It’s happened before
The game opened with a Steelers safety when Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud downed the ball in the end zone after leaving the end zone.
It was the first game that started with a safety on the opening kick since Sept. 18, 1988 when the New York Giants tackled the Dallas Cowboys’ Darryl Clack in the end zone on the opening kickoff.
It was the first time points were scored in the first three seconds of a game since Oct. 12, 2003 when the Cowboys’ Randal Williams returned a Philadelphia Eagles’ onside kick 37 yards for a touchdown.
Point of pride
Tennessee coach Mike Munchak: “We played physical on defense with five sacks. They couldn’t run the ball on us. We started controlling the line of scrimmage and making plays on third down. We got after the quarterback, and they got uncomfortable in their offense. That’s what you hope you can do when you come in someone else’s building.”
Stats and streaks
n Antonio Brown now has a reception in 41 consecutive games, including the postseason.
n Sanders tied his career high (Dec. 19, 2010 vs. New York Jets) with seven receptions.
n Ryan Clark, who twice left the field with injuries, had a game-high 13 tackles, including seven solo tackles.