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Byard's Big Start a Rarity, But Not His First

For the second time in his career, the Tennessee Titans safety has intercepted at least five passes in the first nine games. And that is not all he has done in 2021.

NASHVILLE – Kevin Byard has been here before. No one else can say that.

With his first-quarter interception Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, Byard raised his team-leading total to five.

That made him the first Tennessee player of the Titans era (1999-present) to have five interceptions in the first nine games of a season twice. He also did so in 2017, when he had six in the first nine games and finished the year tied the NFL lead with eight.

The only other Titans player to have five interceptions through the first nine games of a season was cornerback Alterraun Verner in 2013. There were six who had four at the same point in the schedule.

“I’m just out there trying to make plays,” Byard said Sunday following the contest. “Obviously, I know the talk in the offseason was me having a down year [in 2020] and all the stuff like that. … The turnovers weren’t there last year, but they’re coming in bunches right now.”

Byard returned his latest interception 24 yards for a touchdown, the first pick-6 of his career but his second score of the season. On Oct. 10 at Jacksonville, he recovered a fumble at Jacksonville and took it 30 yards for the first points of that contest.

Put it all together and he is one of eight players in the last 22 seasons with at least six takeaways and two touchdowns in his team’s first nine games. That group includes Hall of Famers Rod Woodson (Oakland 2002) and Ed Reed (Baltimore 2004) as well as Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs, who also has done it this season. Diggs and Byard are among those currently mentioned as leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year.

“The main thing is when I watch the film, I feel good with myself, looking at my film like, ‘Hey, I’m playing fast. I’m making the right decisions. Making all the checks and getting guys lined up,” Byard said this week. “That’s what makes me feel good when I’m done playing games.”

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Lately, anyone could recognize the caliber of his play. Four of Byard’s interceptions have come in the last five games – and two have had a significant impact.

His touchdown against the Rams provided the first points in a surge that turned a 3-0 deficit into a 14-3 lead in a span of 11 seconds. It also was a play that showed his continued evolution and development in the NFL because he stepped away from his primary responsibility on the play in order to step in front of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s pass.

“I would say that his responsibility is to have the ability to make a play and not hurt the defense,” coach Mike Vrabel said Monday. “He clearly didn’t. He felt like he knew where the ball was going. So, go make a play on the football – that is never going to be an issue.

“… We want guys to make as many plays as they can to help the team in any way and that was a great example of it.”

In Week 8, his overtime interception at Indianapolis led to Randy Bullock’s game-winning field goal fewer than two minutes later.

Two other picks set up touchdowns in Week 6 against Buffalo and Week 1 against Arizona.

It is a notable and impactful return to form after he managed just one interception in 2020, the first time in four years he did not have at least four. That bounce-back has given him 23 for his career, tied with cornerback Samari Rolle for second on the franchise’s list during the Titans era. Safety Michael Griffin, who twice had four in the first nine games, is first with 25.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Byard said. “… I’m just trying to be the best guy I can for my defense. Hopefully, I keep getting turnovers.”