NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty looked at his younger Titans teammates in the secondary prior to Sunday's game against the Falcons, and he began preaching.
"I talked to guys about opportunity,'' McCourty said. "This was a huge opportunity for us as a whole. We had guys stepping up for injured guys. We had the No.3 offense in the league with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and the weapons that the Falcons have.
"It was a huge opportunity for us to rise to the challenge."
The Titans lost 10-7 to the Falcons on Sunday. Like everyone else, McCourty was upset with the loss.
But a part of McCourty was proud. The Titans gave up just one touchdown to the NFL's No.3 ranked scoring offense, a unit that's also ranked No.4 in the league in total offense (yards). And they did it without two starters in the secondary – safety Michael Griffin and cornerback Perrish Cox.
Others stepped in and played well. Daimion Stafford started for Griffin, while Coty Sensabaugh started in place of Cox. Rookie defensive back Cody Riggs also played some meaningful snaps on defense, and made a big break-up on a pass intended for Jones.
"For the most part we did well,'' said McCourty, who suffered a hamstring injury and missed a good portion of the second half. "Guys stepped up when guys went down, and played hard. We have to be able to complete the game. But there were a lot of moments guys should hold their heads up high over."
The Titans stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down.
Linebacker Avery Williamson made a huge play on a fourth-and-goal from the one when he intercepted Ryan in the end zone on a ball that was deflected first by defensive back Marqueston Huff. The Titans stuffed Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco on the previous play from the one.
The defensive stand midway through the fourth quarter gave the Titans a chance to win it. On this day, the offense failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
"We knew we had time to get the ball back to our offense for their last drive, that's what our job is,'' Williamson said. "We didn't panic. We don't get mad, whatever happens with our offense, or if they (other team) score on us. We just have to go back and keep playing."
An interception by Titans linebacker David Bass set up Tennessee's only points of the day, in the second quarter.
Bass deflected a pass, and caught it himself. On the next play, Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger connected with Kendall Wright for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
"I think we did pretty well,'' Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "You play 60 minutes and we allowed one touchdown to slip past us and it cost us the game. If we do that one thing, make that stop, we come out of the game with a win. That's what we've been harping on all week. One play and making the stop.
"We know we are a good defense. We are just going out there, and need to make that one extra play. That's what we need to be doing."
The Titans, who entered the game ranked No.3 in the NFL on defense, gave up 116 yards to Falcons running back DeVonta Freeman, and Jones caught nine passes for 92 yards.
It was part of a 251-yard passing day for Ryan, who completed 22-of-38 passes, including an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jones to give Atlanta a 10-7 lead with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
But the Titans held Atlanta to 5-of-14 on third down in the game, and the team got some critical stops to give the offense a chance. In the first half, Atlanta managed only a 27-yard field goal by kicker Matt Bryant, as the defense stiffened up when the Falcons neared the Tennessee goal line.
"People can say what they want, but our defense is playing as one of the best in the league, right now,'' Williamson said. "It is very upsetting, because we should have had that game. I feel like what the defense is doing, the leadership and the tenacity we come with in practice, is carrying over to the games. And it showed today.
"It's tough, but we just can't point fingers. What we have to do is work and keep doing what we do on defense, the offense will do what they do on offense, and keep going."