Ryan Allen had a perfectly fine afternoon punting the football for Tennessee last weekend as a replacement for three-time Pro Bowler Brett Kern, who had hurt his wrist in the previous game. But even though the Titans' special teams weren't broke, coach Mike Vrabel decided to try and fix them. The results were disastrous and helped cost Tennessee a big game against a division rival in a 34-17 loss to the Colts.
Though Allen kicked the ball eight times in Week 9 for an average of 40.0 net yards—essentially equaling what Kern has done this season—Vrabel replaced Allen with former Tennessee Volunteers guy Trevor Daniel, who earlier this month was signed to the practice squad from a job delivering packages for FedEx. The reason why Daniel ended up getting the nod over Allen on Thursday is so vague that I would almost—almost!—believe that some sort of COVID test cover-up is at play. (Haha, that would be crazy ... right?)
“The process is what happens in practice and we did what we feel like was best for the team,” Vrabel said after the loss last night. “That’s the decision that we made.”
Vrabel was stuck defending his choice of starting punter—never a sign that things went well—because of two critical mistakes that came on Daniel's punts when it was still one-possession affair in the third quarter. The new guy's first punt had been uneventful, traveling 47 yards. But with Tennessee leading 17-13, Daniel sliced the ball while punting out of his own end zone, knocking it out of bounds at just the Titans' 27. Four plays later, Nyheim Hines ran it in for the go-ahead touchdown.
That unforced error would have been bad enough, but things got much, much worse for Daniel on his shot at redemption, which came just a minute later. Again punting from deep in his own territory, Daniel helplessly watched as the ball was smothered by the quickness of Indy's E.J. Speed, who got in unblocked and set up T.J. Carrie for the short touchdown return.
That one really wasn't Daniel's fault! And neither was the ensuing special teams failure on the follow-up drive—a 44-yard field goal by veteran Stephen Gostkowski sailed wide right, a league-leading eighth miss this year. And while we're at it, Ryan Tannehill's inability to get the offense going at all in the second half wasn't Daniel's fault either, and that should shoulder at least as much blame for the 17-point loss as the pair of punting miscues.
If you want to point fingers for this home loss, you can point them at the QB, the coach, and at special-teams coach Craig Aukerman. But the enduring image of this Titans defeat won't be a guy on the sidelines or even a guy who missed his block at the worst possible time; it'll be poor Trevor Daniel getting swarmed by Colts as he fails to execute a play that we all pretty much take for granted. Who knows if Daniel will ever get another chance to try and make it right.