Tennessee Titans, Darius Reynaud Avert Crisis, Get Win vs. Steelers and Win Fans’ Optimism

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COMMENTARYDarius Reynaud had endured a fairly unspectacular tenure in the National Football League up until last season, his first with the Tennessee Titans.

In his primary role as return specialist he returned 2 punts and 1 kickoff return for touchdowns last year having played in all 16 games and finishing the season ranked 3rd in the NFL and 2nd in AFC with a 13.2 punt return average. His kickoff return for a touchdown earned him the franchise record with 105 yards.

Before hitting Titans pay dirt he had recorded zero touchdowns in the preceding seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants on a combined 86 attempts total for both the punt and kick return categories since 2008 coming into 2012 with no stats recorded for 2011. (If Reynaud were a baseball player, fans would be wondering whether to attribute this sudden, new found scoring prowess to a little something-something of the performance enhancing persuasion. But I digress…)

In his secondary role as running back for the Tennessee Titans, Reynaud rushed for 33 yards on 16 attempts last season.

For as much as his play last year may have endeared him to the Titans organization, however, his opening play on the opening drive of the Titans season opener at the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 8, 2013 proved spectacularly awful.

After a preseason that still left Titans fans to ponder whether or not their beloved team was moving forward or backwards, Reynaud's blunder to start the game seemed to answer that question with a resounding BACKWARDS.

The return man grabbed the kickoff at the 1-yard line and then stepped back into the end zone for a kneel down and a Steelers safety.

That safety might have been the easiest two points I've ever seen a team register and was quite possibly one of the most elementary mistakes that I have ever seen an NFL veteran commit--and there have been many.

That moment was destined to be an omen for fans, one that would substantiate our fears that this team would stay the course of disappointment that it had owned ever since they capped their 13-3 regular season in 2008-2009 with a first round playoff defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

In the time since that loss, the Titans have suffered through five roller coaster seasons that culminated with few lingering thrills--Chris Johnson's record-setting 2,006 rushing yards and 2,509 yards from scrimmage in a season when the team failed to make the playoffs; Vince Young's on again, off again ability to effectively play the quarterback position; the immaterial acquisition of Randy Moss; a franchise hero in Mike Munchak taking over the head coaching reins; and a new era at quarterback starting with the selection of Jake Locker at number 8 in the 2011 NFL draft.

Save for the two latter items above on which the jury is still out, the organization has sustained few sparks.

My overall verdict on predictions for this year's team was best characterized as "proceed with caution."

And that safety was a sign of doom to come--until it wasn't.

Fortunately, the Titans were able to recover and instead that safety--1 of 3 safeties posted in the first quarter of the early games that day--turned out to be the only 2 points the Steelers would record through three quarters in their 16-9 loss to the Titans.

The return of Gregg Williams from a league suspension to his formerly held post of defensive assistant on the Titans coaching staff helped shore up a unit that was at its stingy best only allowing the Steelers to score again with 1:23 left to go in the game.

And now, without the added burden of a season opening loss, I can give Reynaud the benefit of the doubt on that disastrous play.

Reynaud's bio on titansonline.com indicates that he has been playing football since he was in high school, even earning most valuable player honors of his team's state title game as a senior. With that said, we know he's been playing football for at least 10 years and, of course we know that it has likely been even longer than that.

Given his perceived expertise on all things football, I am more apt to believe that what actually happened on that play was a failed attempt at deception. Please allow me to reconstruct my theory as to his state of mind at the time of the incident.

Having realized his mistake in fielding the kickoff at the 1-yard line, instead of letting the ball bounce into the end zone, Reynaud attempted to cover up his crime by creeping his way backwards into the end zone--hoping to fool refs into believing that the ball should be spotted at the 20.

After all, it almost worked. The ball was originally spotted there until the right play call of safety was quickly made. If this had happened a year ago when replacement refs had the league in a tailspin, Reynaud might have gotten away with this.

That has to be it, right? I refuse to believe that a fifth-year player is still capable of such an inexcusable misstep.

Waking up 1-0 the next day likely made Titans fans a little more willing to embrace my theory as well. So instead of that ugly moment in the game signaling another disappointing season to come, it can exist in our thoughts as a hopeful representation of a season of promise--one of resilience. Instead of proving that the Titans are again barreling down the wrong track, it serves to encourage us that this team can indeed be relevant again.

And Darius Reynaud gets to live another day in our kind graces--until another mistake like that means he doesn't.

Rosalyn R. Ross lives in Memphis, TN and has covered the Titans as Co-Host of the Tell It Like It Is Sports Radio Show on Yahoo Sports Radio,KQPN. She is the founder and editor of LadySingsTheSports.com.

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