Dusty Zeigler remembers standing on the sideline with his Buffalo teammates, discussing how they would celebrate their playoff win over the Titans. Then, he said, it was like a shotgun went off, and 10 guys were lying on the ground.
"The biggest emotional roller coaster I've ever experienced," he said of being on the losing end of the "Music City Miracle" kickoff return by Tennessee in the AFC wild-card game last season. The play with three seconds remaining gave the Titans a 22-16 win over the Bills, a defeat from which Zeigler said it took a month to recover.
Now he's preparing to return to the scene of the most replayed lateral in history, one that helped catapult Tennessee into Super Bowl XXXIV and sent Zeigler and his teammates into a month-long stupor. There will be some differences this time, however.
Zeigler, an offseason free agent addition, will accompany the 3-1 Giants into Adelphia Coliseum on Sunday, and will be playing a more familiar center position. In the playoff game, because of injuries, he was forced to move to left tackle and, at times, came face to face with The Freak.
"He's the athlete everyone says he is, and he's a smart player, too," Zeigler said of defensive end Jevon Kearse of the Titans (2-1), who as a rookie had 14 1/2 sacks in establishing himself as one of the league's top defensive forces. "We limited him to a low number of sacks, single digits (two to be exact), so I guess we did a pretty good job against him."
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Kearse has only 1 1/2 sacks in the first three games this season, and was limited in practice Wednesday because of a hip flexor suffered during Sunday's 23-20 win over Pittsburgh. But the Giants expect him to be full-go come Sunday, when he'll be working primarily against right tackle Luke Petitgout.
Since the Titans move him around, he'll also line up against left tackle Lomas Brown, and is certain to get the attention of the Giants' tight ends and running backs.
"There are tight ends lining up over there, backs lining up over there, he's being double-teamed," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of the attention Kearse has been drawing in his second season. "I was surprised Kansas City kept its best player (tight end Tony Gonzalez) in to block Jevon. Backs have been chipping him on their way out. Jevon is going to have to find ways of beating the chip blocks and double teams. And our other players have to help pick up the slack."
"He is the complete package," Giants coach Jim Fassel said of Kearse, who almost fell into the Giants' laps in the first round of the 1999 draft. He was drafted 16th by the Titans while the Giants, selecting 19th, were ready to scuttle their need for an offensive lineman (they eventually picked Petitgout) to grab the pass-rushing whiz from Florida.
"He has the explosive strength, the quickness, the intensity, and he never takes a play off," Fassel said.
Zeigler felt pain Jan. 8 when the Titans pulled off their wild-card miracle victory. After the Bills took the lead at 16-15 with 16 seconds remaining, he remembers players talking about their trip the following week to play Indianapolis. Then Frank Wycheck tossed his barely legal lateral to Kevin Dyson, who went 75 yards for the touchdown and the amazing finish.
"After that, I tuned football out for the rest of the playoffs, I didn't even want to watch it," Zeigler said. "People were saying if we had won that game we would have made it to the Super Bowl instead of Tennessee. And we thought we had the game won."