Share this article

print logo

SPECIAL EFFECTS

The Tennessee Titans' special teams are practicing for their next miracle.

It's not Home Run Throwback.

It's a different kickoff return, and they're not saying what it is.

"We've got another play in our book," said Titans special teams coach Alan Lowry as his team prepared to meet St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV. "We've been practicing it the last couple weeks. But we hope we're not in that situation."

If the Titans' Music City Miracle against the Buffalo Bills reinforced any message, it was this: Be prepared.

The Titans' special teams were ready when they shocked the Bills with their 75-yard lateral kickoff return for a touchdown. It gave them a 22-16 wild-card victory.

And the Titans' special teams have been on a roll ever since.

They were outstanding a week later in Indianapolis and were sensational in the AFC Championship Game at Jacksonville, getting an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to break open the game.

"We pulled something out of our hat in that game against Buffalo, and it really got us going," said kickoff returner Derrick Mason. "We've done good things on special teams every game in the playoffs. We're on a roll, and we hope it doesn't stop."

The principals involved in the Titans' Immaculate Deception have spent their interviews this week reliving the dramatic play that kept their Super Bowl dream alive.

Lowry had been saving that play in his playbook since his first season as a coach in the NFL -- 1982.

"I was in Dallas as the special teams coach and actually was leaving practice one day and listening to the SMU-Texas Tech game on was tied and they pulled this play out. They lateraled back across the field. It worked and they won the game.

"I talked to my friends on the SMU staff and found out exactly how they blocked it. . . . I tweaked it a little, but I never used it in 18 years."

Lowry said the Titans practiced the play extensively in training camp and about once a month since.

"You could do a reverse or a lateral in that situation," Lowry said. "But over the years I haven't really liked that because it seems you always end up going backward with it or fumbling.

"We had practiced it against the squib kick and the deep kick, but we hadn't practiced it against the high pooch," Lowry said. "But once we caught the ball, it was just like a squib kick. If they had kicked it deep, Isaac Byrd, the deep man, would have fielded it, run up and thrown the lateral."

The Titans are unanimous in their belief that the lateral was legal, not forward. After Kevin Dyson caught the throw from Frank Wycheck, he had a clear field down the sideline. Darryl Porter, Joe Cummings and Jonathan Linton were among the Bills on that side who went with the initial flow of the play.

"There was a lot of controversy, but whenever you slow the play down, you can see it was a lateral," Dyson said.

There has been nothing debatable about the rest of the Titans' special teams play this postseason.

Against Indy, the Titans had a 47-yard kickoff return, a 19-yard punt return and downed two punts inside the 20.

Against Jacksonville, Mason had returns of 44 and 32 yards besides his 80-yard score.

During the regular season, the Titans ranked 31st in the NFL in kickoff return average.

"But that was misleading," Lowry said. "We had short kicks where we got zero yards. Our average drive start after kickoffs was in the middle of the pack."

The Titans' Craig Hentrich is at the head of the pack of NFL punters.

He had 35 punts inside the 20 this year with just three touchbacks.

"He kicks a knuckleball that nobody else in the league kicks," Lowry said.

"Punters hold the ball with the nose angled in," Hentrich said. "When I pooch it, I hold it with the nose angled out and down, and I kick the outside of the ball. It took me a year of practicing it before I was confident enough to use it in a game."

The Titans think they hold a special teams edge over the Rams Sunday because of their punting and their kick return game. St. Louis ranks 30th in kickoff coverage.

"We believe in our special teams," said running back Eddie George. "We got that blessing to have that happen against Buffalo, so our attitude is let's take advantage of it and go all the way."

There are no comments - be the first to comment