Ayers fortunate not to be goat for Titans

Akeem Ayers is an improving player who’s a central figure in a young Titans defense.

But his roughing the passer penalty late in regulation was a crusher for Tennessee Sunday and nearly blew the game.

With Shaun Hill in his arms but the ball going, he flung the Lions’ No. 2 quarterback to the ground with 20 seconds left in regulation.

Let Hill go, and Alterraun Verner's interception in the end zone stands. The game is over. Instead, the penalty negated the pick and left the Lions room for this sequence: Touchdown pass, recovered onside kick, incompletion, Hail Mary touchdown pass.

Ayers was involved in the Hial Mary too, coming in to leap and get a hand on the pass. But he didn’t get enough of the ball to assertively knock it down, and unintentionally delivered it right to Detroit’s Titus Young who scored to force overtime. (I find no fault in Ayers here. You want to knock the ball down better. But he can’t let it go presuming defenders behind him will take care of it. If he does that and Calvin Johnson comes down with it, it’s a major gaffe.)

Had the Titans lost, the roughing penalty would have been pointed to as opening the gates and Ayers would be the talk of Nashville.

Mike Munchak said Monday the game should have ended with that Verner interception as the penalty never should have happened.

Game statisticians credited Ayers with a game-high 16 tackles. He had the Titans’ lone sack as well as a pass defensed.

I expect the second year strongside backer will come to play smarter at crucial moments and will benefit from the eventual return of middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who’s been out since suffering an ankle injury in the opener.

Ayers should be especially grateful to get off the hook for his penalty, but his answer in the locker room to reporters was weak, and I hope he grows out of the sort of thinking it reflected.

“I don’t want to put too much on myself, at the end of the day it’s a team game,” he said. “I don’t believe personally one person can lose a game that takes 22 people to win. … I am just happy we came out with a win.”

Note to Ayers: One guy making one bad play can lose a game. It happens all the time, all around the league. Accountability isn’t a strong suit of some of the core guys on this team. You’re one of those core guys now. Feel free to take more blame than you should when you mess up, not less.