NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Among his teammates, Titans cornerback LeShaun Sims goes by the nickname "Mouse," a player so quiet that at times he skips verbal communication altogether.
"He's not akward quiet, he just doesn't say much," safety Johnathan Cyprien said. "You tell him something and a lot of times, he'll just give you a nod. That's it."
Sims' silence might have helped him on Sunday.
A louder player might have screamed when presented with the defensive challenge Sims was handed midway through the third quarter of the Titans' 24-13 win.
When starting cornerback Logan Ryan – who'd been matched up almost exclusively with star Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins – left the game with a concussion, it was Sims who was asked to take over those responsibilities.
Hopkins, of course, has tortured whatever Titans cornerback has tried to cover him over the years.
In nine previous contests against Tennessee before Sunday, Hopkins had averaged more than 100 yards per game against the Titans, throwing in six touchdowns to boot. Already on Sunday, Hopkins had caught seven passes for 66 yards, helping Houston to a 10-point lead at one point.
So what was the Mouse thinking when given the assignment of coming in nearly cold to cover one of the NFL's top receivers?
"Just trust myself, trust my preparation," Sims said. "Trust that I'm ready for the match-up, go out and play ball."
A fifth-round pick, Sims quickly showed he had no plans to roll over in front of Hopkins.
With the Texans facing third-and-two early in the fourth quarter, Sims battled Hopkins off the line of scrimmage, throwing the receiver's timing off and forcing an incompletion. Sims even offered a little celebration afterward, rightfully so considering the Titans were holding on to a one-touchdown lead at the time.
"Hopkins is a tough cover," Sims said. "He's very physical. You have to try to fight fire with fire, try to put your hands on him and be aggressive as well. You have to be locked in."
Sims surrendered one completion to Hopkins on the following series, but the Mouse was a monster when it mattered most.
Trailing 17-13, the Texans had methodically driven to the Titans' 29 with just over a minute left in the game, even converting on a fourth-and-19 play. That's when Houston quarterback Tom Savage went for the kill shot, throwing deep for Hopkins, who'd reached the end zone on a double move.
But Sims read the pass and played it perfectly, stepping outside and hauling in his first interception of the season to all but seal the victory.
"I was over the top of him," Sims said. "I just looked back at the quarterback and saw he was going to throw it outside, so I just turned my head and made a play."
Said Savage: "I was throwing it out there, to the outside, and the guy just made a good play on the ball."
This, of course, was not the first time the Titans' Mouse had roared.
Think back to the Kansas City game of last season, when the Chiefs – already up 17-7 in the third quarter – were driving for what could have been a crushing score. That's when Sims recorded the only interception of his rookie season, picking off Alex Smith in the end zone and sparking a rally that would eventually lead to a 19-17 Titans victory.
"LeShaun doesn't say much, but he's a confident guy," Cyprien said. "He believes in his skills and in what he's taught to do. He did that today and he played at a real high level."
One could argue the Titans themselves have been quiet for quite some time, but are starting to make their share of noise.
The victory over Houston was the sixth in seven games for the Titans (8-4), who improved to 4-1 in the AFC South, ensuring their first winning divisional record since 2008.
"One of the reasons we were where we were last year, we didn't win enough games in the division," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "It cost us a chance to go to the tournament. We knew this year we have to win games in the division."
The year 2008 seems to be coming up a lot in reference to the Titans these days, since it was the last time this team made the playoffs. But after Sunday's win over Houston, the Titans have a 92 percent chance of returning to the postseason this year, according to playoffstatus.com.
Should the Titans make the playoffs, they'll look back at this game and recall at least a couple of stirring individual performances.
One was that of tight end Delanie Walker took over offensively on the team's biggest drive, catching three passes for 56 yards and a touchdown.
The other belonged to a man named Mouse, who helped shut down Hopkins – holding him to one catch on three targets for 14 yards over the last quarter-and-a-half – and recorded a critical interception.
"It felt nice to step up when my name was called," Sims said. "It was nice to make a play."
Any chance that big play might change Sims moving forward?
"Nope," Cyprien said. "The Mouse is going to stay confident, and he's going to stay quiet."
-- Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Houston Texans in Week 13 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)