NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions joined the NFL in honoring pioneer film maker Steve Sabol by delivering spectacular highlights and a dramatic ending on Sunday.
The Titans became the first team in NFL history to record five scoring plays of at least 61 yards in a 44-41 overtime victory at LP Field.
Sabol, the longtime NFL Films president who passed away last week, was honored on the Titantron video boards and with a moment of silence before the game. The Titans followed with breathtaking plays, and Detroit answered with an improbable last-gasp effort in regulation to force the extra period.
Second-year pro Jake Locker drove the Titans 72 yards in overtime to set up a 26-yard field goal by Rob Bironas and record his first win in the NFL.
"I don't think I could have dreamt them up any crazier than that when I was 5 years old," Locker said. "Somebody asked me after the game, and it's definitely one that I'll never forget for my first win."
The celebration was threatened when the Lions (1-2) scored two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation. Reserve QB Shaun Hill completed a 3-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson, Detroit got the ball back after a successful onside kick, and Titus Young caught a 46-yard Hail Mary attempt by Hill that Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers deflected away from Johnson.
Because of a new rule that allows teams that lose the overtime coin toss to receive one possession if they hold their opponent to a field goal, Detroit had another chance. The Lions started at their own 22-yard line and drove to the Tennessee 7, where Detroit needed less than a yard on fourth down.
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the intention was to draw an encroachment penalty against the Titans, but there was miscommunication. Hill took the snap, and Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks surged through the line, tackling Hill for a loss.
"The defense has to get out there on the snaps and determine what's going on and you have to stay as a whole," Casey said. "That's what we did today as a defense, we stayed as a whole. When it came down to it no matter if it was fourth-and-1, or third-and-long, we stopped them on that fourth-and-1, and we stopped them and got the job done as a whole."
Helmets came off, high-fives abounded and fireworks exploded. Then the referee announced that the play was under review. It was soon confirmed.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said in 30 years in the NFL he never saw "anything close to what we experienced" in the game.
Munchak quickly met Lions coach Jim Schwartz for a handshake after them game and said both coaches shook their heads in disbelief.
"I think we both just looked at each other and said we'd never been through something like this in our lives," Munchak said. "It's hard to put in words what to say about that because we both could've won in so many ways. When you talk to your team, there's so many things that we could have … the plays that we didn't make that could have won the game, and the same for him. I think it's one of those where we basically say, 'Hey, let's talk later in the week.' "
SPECIAL TEAMS STARTS IT: A thrilling trick play on special teams in the first quarter foreshadowed what was to come.
Darius Reynaud caught Ben Graham's end-over-end punt at the Tennessee 37-yard line and went to his left to the 40. He then turned and fired an overhand lateral across the field to Tommie Campbell at the 35. Campbell caught it cleanly and turned on his jets, picking up two blocks he needed and coasting untouched for the touchdown.
"Never threw it high school, never threw it in college, never threw it in my career in the league," Reynaud said. "The whole time in practice, it was practice perfect. Tommie (Campbell) kept emphasizing to me and kept telling me don't throw it high, keep it to his numbers or below. We practiced on it real good, and all I had to do was just give him a good ball in the game."
Reynaud was one of the first to greet Campbell at the finish line to celebrate Tennessee's first first-quarter touchdown of the season.
It was the second career TD for Campbell, who scored on an 84-yard kickoff return after a reverse from Marc Mariani against Tampa Bay in his rookie season.
Reynaud joined the Titans this offseason and replaced Mariani as the team's primary kick and punt returner when Mariani suffered a season-ending broken leg in the preseason. He said the Titans had worked on the play since the previous Monday, but he felt pressure before executing it.
"It was a lot, man," Reynaud said. "Coach looked at me before the play happened like, 'We're going to call a Maroon.' So when he called it, my heart, it just pounded. It was on the 20, and I'm watching the gunners come down, and they were set up just how we practiced. When I threw the ball, I knew Tommie (Campbell) was going up there."
COOK BUILDS LEAD: Titans tight end Jared Cook added the next big play when he glided down the field and caught a pass from Locker at the Detroit 29.
Cook kept focus on the ball, but wasn't satisfied with just the yardage from the catch. Although Lions safety Erik Coleman contacted him almost immediately, Cook broke the tackle, dodged an attempt by Amari Spievey and beat Jacob Lacey to the goal line for a 17-9 lead.
The 61-yard catch-and-run was the second-longest catch of Cook's career and, until later in the game, longest pass of Locker's career.
Cook had four catches for 77 yards, but his day ended prematurely in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.
SPECIAL TEAMS DOES IT AGAIN: The Titans went scoreless in the third quarter as Detroit scored 18 straight to take a 27-20 lead with 6:53 in the fourth quarter.
Reynaud, however, answered with a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to tie the game 12 seconds later. Reynaud caught the ball in the middle of the field and zoomed down the Titans' sideline where he picked up a crushing block from Taylor Thompson and from Campbell.
"Right before that play, Taylor (Thompson) came to me and he was just telling me, just follow me," Reynaud said. "So when I hit the sideline, it was a bounce-and-turn and hit the sideline, and all I see is Taylor coming in front of me. He laid out the one, and I saw Tommie (Campbell) coming in front of me and he laid out the kicker. That play was just set up perfectly."
Tennessee scored on a punt and kickoff return for the first time in Titans/Oilers franchise history and scored TDs on offense, defense and special teams for the first time since a win at Philadelphia on Nov. 19, 2006.
WASHINGTON ADDS TO HIGHLIGHT REEL:The Titans took the lead again on their next possession with a drive that officially lasted one spectacular play.
After a penalty negated a designed run by Locker and put the Titans at their own 29, Locker fired deep to Nate Washington. The veteran receiver turned to follow the ball, which was heading toward the back of Lacey's jersey. Washington jumped up, then reached his hands and arms over Lacey's head, caught the ball near the Detroit 44 and spurted for the end zone.
"He felt like he trusted in me, and I'm grateful that he did," Washington said. "I trusted him to make the play when it's that type of crunch time. It was just gratifying that he trusted in me to make that play and I was able to make it."
Washington had three catches for 112 yards to lead the Titans. Locker completed 29 of 42 passes for a career-high 378 yards and two touchdowns against no interceptions for a passer rating of 113. His stats included seven completions to Kendall Wright for 41 yards, six to Kenny Britt for 55 yards and five to Craig Stevens for 63 yards, but Locker said the play made by Washington with 3:11 remaining was extra special.
"I'd be highly disappointed for his sake if it's not a top play on the Top 10 this week," Locker said. "It was just a great catch at a time in the game when a play like that really picked our team up, I feel. Something we talked about on the sideline, tried to give him a chance. I didn't really give him a real good one but he made the best of it."
VERNER RIPS IT CLEAN: Alterraun Verner added a defensive touchdown to end Detroit's next possession with 1:16 left when he alertly stripped the ball away from Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew after a short pass from Matthew Stafford.
Verner returned the fumble he forced and recovered 72 yards, punctuating his first career TD with an "LP Leap" into the first row of fans in the end zone.
"I just thought that was the perfect opportunity," Verner said. "The tight end didn't see me when he turned, so when I hit him I felt like he was shocked, so I was like 'might as well give it a try'. If worse comes to worse, I'm going to make the tackle. Somehow I was able to get the ball out and help this team win. It was definitely surprising."
Stafford, who gave slight chase to Verner on the play, left the game with a leg muscle injury. Hill completed 10 of 13 passes for 172 yards with the two TDs for a passer rating of 157.9 (the maximum in the NFL is 158.3) in less than 10 minutes of playing time. Stafford finished 33-for-42 with 278 yards and one TD. He was sacked once by Ayers on a third-down play with the score tied at 27 in the fourth quarter.
But the day and a game ball from Munchak went to Locker, who completed seven straight pass attempts to start the game, and thanked teammates for all the plays that went into the victory.
"You'd love to be able to have (the five TDs of more than 60 yards) every week," Locker said. "Obviously, that's not going to happen, but you talk about trying to create explosive plays and that's a culmination of everybody working hard to make that happen. That's not just the guy that's got the ball in his hands. It's everybody included, and that's what makes them so special."