One year after his rookie season was ruined by friendly fire along the offensive line, Steelers guard David DeCastro accidentally took out the right knee of center Maurkice Pouncey and ended his teammate's season early in the first quarter of the season-opening 16-9 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.
DeCastro attempted to cut Tennessee defensive tackle Sammie Hill and accidentally clipped Pouncey, who sustained injuries to his MCL and ACL that will require surgery.
In the first preseason game a year ago at Buffalo, tackle Marcus Gilbert fell into DeCastro, who sustained a knee injury that kept him out the first 12 games of the season.
Everyone in the locker room felt bad for Pouncey, but Gilbert has a unique perspective. He also felt for DeCastro, who was visibly upset on the field when Pouncey was being carted off. Gilbert said DeCastro cannot let the accident affect how he approaches the game.
"Freak things like that will happen in football," Gilbert said. "Everybody is playing ball. You don't know where your guy is. He ended up rolling up on him. It's not his fault. He was just playing football."
The injury happened on one of the new outside zone blocking running plays the Steelers implemented over the offseason. In outside zone blocking, offensive linemen are expected to chop down defensive linemen so they cannot pursue to the ball.
It can be a difficult block to execute, especially when practice time with such blocks are limited only to a few repetitions in preseason games and not practices. Gilbert and DeCastro said the Steelers did not attempt to cut block their teammates in training camp because of the concern for injuries.
"It's tough when you don't practice it, but there's no excuse for it," DeCastro said. "You have to get the job done."
Game plan altered
The injury to Pouncey forced the Steelers to tweak their game plan on the run. Reserve offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum started at tight end and was expected to be used a lot there throughout the game. But Beachum also is the backup center and played the rest of the game in place of Pouncey.
"We had our game plan. It was working," Gilbert said. "We drove down the field. The injury happened. That took out our game plan, especially with Beachum at tight end. We had good things going, but unfortunately we had a setback and we couldn't do some of the things we were going to do.
No turnovers for defense
The defense only allowed one touchdown, but continuing a trend from 2012, did not force any turnovers. The Titans only gained 229 yards, but they controlled the ball for 34:01. They also converted four of their nine third-down conversions in the second half, including a third-and-15 and a third-and-13 on a field-goal drive early in the third quarter that gave the Titans a 10-2 lead.
"You have to get off the field in those situations," safety Ryan Clark said. "Early last season I think we had some of the same things, not getting off the field when we had people behind the chains. They made some plays. People are going to make plays on us. When you lose a game 16-9 those plays are magnified."
Milestone for Ben
Ben Roethlisberger became the 35th quarterback in NFL history to throw for 30,000 yards. Of the 35 quarterbacks to reach the 30,000-yard milestone, Roethlisberger is one of only six to win multiple Super Bowl titles. He joined Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Troy Aikman, John Elway and Eli Manning in that group.
Roethlisberger is 1 of 21 quarterbacks to throw for 30,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards.
With his touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:23 remaining, Roethlisberger also tied his career-best streak of 15 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass.
Titans ground and pound
Tennessee outgained the Steelers, 112-32, in rushing yards and ran 42 times compared to the Steelers' 15. The Titans first scoring drive of the game, a 12-play, 49-yard drive that consumed 6:48 late in the second quarter consisted of 11 rushing plays and one pass that fell incomplete. It was capped by Jackie Battle's 3-yard run with 44 seconds left in the half.
"We started out the game struggling a bit with the ball," guard Andy Levitre said. "We ended up turning to the run and started to have some success with that.
"They never really stopped us, and it ended up being what was working for us today so we just kept pounding it."
Levitre, who was signed as a free agent from Buffalo, was one of three new interior offensive linemen for the Titans. He joined center Rob Turner, who was with St. Louis in 2012, and rookie first-round pick Chance Warmack out of Alabama.
That group pretty much controlled the middle of the Steelers defense most of the game.
"Our mentality is we're going to pound the ball and make an identity for ourselves," Warmack said. "We're physical all across the board [on the offensive line] and showed it a little bit [Sunday]."
That the Titans would want to develop a tough offensive line should come as no surprise. Head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews played their entire careers with the Houston Oilers (who are now the Titans), both were first-round draft picks and both are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"It's a dream come true for me," Warmack said. "My coaches have been there and know what I'm experiencing, and they're helping me along."
Huge play for Titans
After starting the game in 2-0 hole, the Titans defense held the Steelers to just one late touchdown. But it was an early turnover with the Steelers inside the Titans 10 that turned around the game.
After kick returner Darius Reynaud's end-zone gaffe resulted in a safety for the Steelers on the opening kickoff, the Steelers started on their 41 after a free kick. They drove to the Titans 6, when running back Isaac Redman fumbled into the end zone on a third-and-1 play and the Titans recovered.
"That's huge," Munchak said. "We got to third down three times, I think, on that opening drive and they found a way to convert. Then they were trying to hurry a play, and it cost them the fumble that we recovered. The defense settled down after that first drive. Then we started playing our type of game."
The Steelers did convert three third-down plays in three tries in their opening drive, but after that, were just 1 for 12 the rest of the game.
"It's about us attacking," Titans safety Bernard Pollard said. "That's big for us for the defense to get the ball back for our offense."
Pollard has a unique view of the Steelers. He played the past two seasons for division-rival Baltimore after being drafted in 2006 by Kansas City and making a stop in Houston. He was credited with six tackles Sunday against the Steelers.
"When you play a team like this, there's a history here," he said. "You're dealing with a whole lot of bullies, and I mean bullies on the field. And I don't mean that in the wrong way. They're a powerhouse. You've got to step up, not back up, in this kind of fight."
• LaMarr Woodley needs a half-sack to move past Greg Lloyd for fifth in that category in franchise history. Woodley has 53 career sacks after registering one Sunday for minus-8 yards.
• Emmanuel Sanders recorded the 100th reception of his career.
• Antonio Brown has caught a pass in 41 consecutive games.
• The previous time there was a safety on an opening kickoff was Sept. 18, 1988 in a game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
• The previous time a team scored three seconds into a game was Oct. 12, 2003 when the Cowboys returned an onside kick 37 yards for a touchdown.
The Steelers did not dress QB Landry Jones, RB Le'Veon Bell, DB Antwon Blake, OL Cody Wallace, TE Heath Miller, DL Hebron Fangupo and LB Vince Williams. The Titans did not dress WRs Michael Preston and Justin Hunter, LB Zaviar Gooden, OL Brian Schwenke and Brian Singily, and DL Keyunta Dawson and Lavar Edwards.Steelers
Jerry Micco contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.