Titans Pull Away at Oakland, Pull Even With Houston
It started out ugly, but the Tennessee Titans’ 42-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday set up what should be a thrilling and dramatic finish to the 2019 season.
With their sixth victory in seven games (the third straight by at least two touchdowns) since Ryan Tannehill became the starting quarterback, the Titans pulled even with the Houston Texans in the AFC South but failed to lay claim to one of the top six spots in the conference standings. They currently lose out to the Texans for first place by virtue of their division record and they lose out to Pittsburgh for the second AFC wild card spot by virtue of their conference record.
Tennessee and Houston will meet twice in the next three weeks, the first time will be next Sunday at Nissan Stadium. Pittsburgh’s remaining three games are all against AFC opponents, including one that has the conference’s best record (Baltimore) and another that currently holds the top wild card spot (Buffalo).
Without question, the Titans (8-5) have given themselves a chance to reach the postseason despite four losses in the first six games, which necessitated the quarterback change.
“This team knows how to face adversity,” Tannehill said. “We’ve faced it so many times throughout the season that there’s just a belief that we’re going to find a way. We’re going to find a way – not matter what’s going on – to keep playing, keep believing in each other, keep pressing tempo and someone will make a play.”
The plays the Titans made against the Raiders included rookie A.J. Brown’s 91-yard touchdown reception (the longest completion of Tannehill’s career), which gave them the lead for the first time early in the second quarter, and Jayon Brown’s 46-yard fumble return (pictured), which capped the scoring with 13:12 to play and was the last of three Tennessee touchdowns in a span of 7:24 that broke open what was a tie game at halftime.
The adversity included an interception on the opening drive of the game after Tannehill and the offense had held the ball for 12 plays and six minutes. A deflected screen pass ended with the ball in the hands of Raiders defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, who returned it 55 yards and set up a touchdown that gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead. There also was a missed field goal by Ryan Succop – his 42-yard attempt hit the left upright – as time expired on the first half and sent the teams to the locker room tied 21-21, with the Raiders set to start the second half with the ball.
The defense limited Oakland to 25 plays, only four of which took place across midfield, on its first five possessions after halftime and once again the Titans outperformed their opponent in the final two quarters. Of the 318 points Tennessee has scored this season, 200 (63 percent) have come in the second half, when their scoring margin is plus-87.
“This is a gritty football team that understands it’s just fine playing in close games and wearing people down and making some huge plays down the stretch,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “… To be able to get a shutout in the second half was, obviously, crucial.”
When all was said and done, the Titans had amassed a season-high 556 yards of total offense (its first 500-yard game since Nov. 29, 2009), averaged a season-high 9.4 yards-per play and rolled up a season-high 26 first downs. Brown added a second second-quarter touchdown and finished with 153 yards on five catches. Running back Derrick Henry had his fourth straight 100-yard rushing performance (103 on 18 carries) and his fifth straight game with a rushing touchdown (he scored twice, including one in the second half that put Tennessee ahead to stay).
Of course, it wasn’t as easy as those numbers suggest.
“I felt like every time out offense got the ball that we were going to be able to move the football and score points,” Vrabel said. “Then the turnover, obviously, [and] being able to score defense. … We’re excited to travel out here and win against a tough opponent. But we got to get back and get as healthy as we can and try to find a way to beat a division rival.”