Notebook: Titans Beat Cowboys 34-27



Linebacker Stephen Tulloch (55) is congratulated by teammates Rennie Curran (left) and David Thornton (right) following his game-clinching interception Sunday at Dallas.
ARLINGTON, Texas --**  Quick reflexes by one rookie and a proper path charted by another helped the Titans break a pair of ties in the fourth quarter and finish off a resilient Dallas Cowboys squad 34-27 Sunday.

Tennessee improved to 3-2, joining AFC South foes Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville in a four-way tie for first in the division. The Titans visit the Jaguars on Oct. 18 on Monday Night Football.

Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner intercepted Dallas quarterback Tony Romo deep in Cowboys territory to set up a go-ahead touchdown run by Tennessee running back Chris Johnson, and rookie receiver and kick return man Marc Mariani positioned the Titans and Johnson for the game-winning TD with a 73-yard kick return.

With the score knotted at 20 and Dallas facing a second down-and-6 from its own 16, Titans defensive end Dave Ball leapt into the air and deflected a pass by Romo. Verner pounced to the wobbling ball, intercepted the pass as he was falling down, got up and returned it 12 yards to the Dallas one-yard-line.

"If it wasn't tipped, it probably would have gotten there a lot faster, so I probably would have just been there to make the tackle," Verner said. "But the tip allowed me to re-adjust and get in a position to make the catch."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Ball "got the best hand on the ball" on the play.

"We pressured," Fisher said. "We thought it was going to come out quick, and (Verner) has great hand-eye coordination. He can adjust to the ball."

Johnson scored the first of his two touchdowns one play later, plowing through the line and giving the Titans a 27-20 lead after a successful extra point kick by Rob Bironas, whose errant ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds.

"I was just trying to get a little too much leg on top and do too much," Bironas said. "I can't be 100 percent every time, though I try to be. It's going to happen every once in a while, and I hate it when it does. I'd much rather put them on the 20. I just was trying to do too much."

Dallas took possession at its own 40 with 7:26 remaining after the penalty on Bironas and initiated a seven-play, 60-yard drive capped by an 18-yard pass from Romo to tight end Jason Witten, who drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for handing the ball to Cowboys offensive lineman Marc Colombo to spike it.

The 15 penalty yards were assessed on the following kickoff, enabling the possibility for the kickoff to be returnable instead of Dallas kicker David Buehler going for his fourth touchback.

"We all knew we were going to have to cover," Buehler said. "I don't think we could expect a touchback kicking from the (15-yard-line). I hoped for it, but it's pretty much not possible. We knew we had to cover, and I knew I had to get a good hit, and I think I had a pretty good hit, but it's just one of those things where they blocked us up, he found a hole and he ran through it.

"I was happy I caught him, but we can't give them that type of field position," Buehler continued. "We were already 15 yards in the gutter anyways with the penalty, but we've got to get down there as a coverage team and make a play."

Mariani battled the backdrop of the sun coming through windows at Cowboys Stadium, caught the ball at the Tennessee 16 and returned it 73 yards to the Dallas 11 before Buehler tackled him and committed a face-mask penalty that moved the ball to the Dallas 5.

"That return probably doesn't happen unless they're not kicking off from the 15-yard line," Fisher said. "I don't think anyone can appreciate how difficult that was with Marc in the sun trying to find the ball in the first place. To find the ball and hit it the way he did, it was just a well-executed play."

Mariani, who reeled off a 98-yard touchdown return and misplayed a kickoff against Denver last week, said the sun was "extremely challenging."

"That is a huge advantage for them, I think," Mariani said. "You lose the ball up there for a good amount of time and when it comes down, you're hoping you're in the right spot. With a little more work, maybe it's easier with a few more reps. It was new experience. I'll learn from it and if we ever come back here, I'll know what to do."

Mariani caught the ball closer to the sideline to his left and started toward the middle of the field before dashing toward the sideline on his right.

"From what I saw, the guys pushed everybody over to the left," Mariani said. "Everyone over-pursued and I cut back right. It was there and my job is to hit it. … We were looking for a chance that whole second half to go make a play and it couldn't have turned out better."

Johnson scored the game's final touchdown three plays later, plunging across the goal line with 3:28 to play.
The Cowboys had two more offensive possessions but Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon broke up passes from Romo on third and fourth down during Dallas' next opportunity, and Tennessee linebacker Stephen Tulloch intercepted Romo on the Cowboys' final gasp to seal the win.

Six Pack Sacks

Dallas entered the game having allowed just one sack of Romo in its first three games and allowing sacks on less than one percent (0.78) of all its passing plays but Tennessee sacked Romo six times Sunday during the 52 times he dropped back to pass (11.5 percent of the time).

The Titans sacked Romo five times in the first half, tying the Dallas quarterback's career high for being taken down behind the line of scrimmage. Romo recovered in the final two minutes of the first half, completing 7 of 8 passes during an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to bring the Cowboys within a touchdown at 17-10 at halftime.

Defensive end Jason Babin and defensive tackle Jason Jones each recorded two sacks, and safety Chris Hope also recorded a sack in the first half. Babin leads the Titans with 5.5 sacks on the season, while Jones and Hope notched their first sacks of the season.

Jones said the Titans' key was playing hard "every snap, every time we went out there."

"We're 2-0 on the road right now, and that's pretty good," Jones said. "We're looking forward to the next one."

Ball, who has five sacks on the season, and Tony Brown combined to sack Romo in the third quarter, forcing a 44-yard field-goal attempt that Buehler missed.

The Titans, who entered the game tied for first in the NFL with 16 sacks, recorded six against an opposing quarterback for the second straight week. Tennessee added 10 quarterback hurries and seven pass deflections.

Britt trifecta

Kenny Britt caught a touchdown pass from Young for the third time in as many weeks, notching such a trifecta for the second time in his two-year career.

Britt reeled in a 12-yard pass from Young putting the Titans up 17-3 Sunday, to follow red zone touchdown catches against the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.

Britt led Titans receivers Sunday with four catches for 86 yards and reeled in a 52-yard pass from Young in the third quarter that positioned Tennessee for a 40-yard field goal made by Bironas that gave the Titans a 20-17 lead.

"We know we have fast receivers and we know we can throw the ball down the field," Britt said. "That's what we tried to do early on to get them out of the box."

Young targeted Britt on Tennessee's first possession and drew pass interference penalties of 35 and 13 yards against Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins. Young then scrambled on third-and-5 before hitting Nate Washington in the end zone for a 24-yard score.

"Coach did a great job of calling the plays, and we knew they were going to put a lot of guys in the box, but like I said all week, our receivers are very talented and they want the ball," Young said. "The biggest thing is get the ball into their hands, and they can make a lot of plays for us and they did in that opening drive for a touchdown."

Young, CJ help balance offense

Young completed 12 of 25 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 97.6. It was the fourth time in five starts this season that Young's passer rating was above 90. He said Tennessee's willingness to look downfield with the passing game may have helped create running room for Johnson, who eventually broke free for gains of 29 and 42 yards and finished with 131 yards on 19 carries.

"He can run like a horse and he is very aggressive," Young said.

It was the 19th time in 37 career games for Johnson to rush for more than 100 yards. Johnson has been held under 55 yards rushing in each of the Titans' losses as defenses have sagged off receivers to swarm him.

"I don't think just off one game is going to make defenses come in and not put so many people in the box," Johnson said. "It's going to take a couple games to do it and we are consistent with it, teams will have to come a different way, but I still think teams will come in here and try and play us the same way."

Johnson caught one pass for one yard and fumbled the ball, but Fernando Velasco, who was making his first career start in place of injured guard Leroy Harris, corralled the ball.

Defense yields 500 yards, forces turnovers

The Titans allowed the Cowboys to net 511 yards of total offense and were outgained by a net of 190 offensive yards, but Tennessee held Dallas to three touchdowns and two field goals and never trailed.

"We played a really good football team," Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "They were able to move the ball on us, but we were able to turn them away when we needed to."

Romo completed 31 of 46 passes for 406 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Titans safety Michael Griffin recorded the first interception of Romo. With the score tied at 17 late in the third quarter, the Cowboys had advanced to the Tennessee 21. Romo threw down the middle, and the ball bounced off tight end Martellus Bennett's hands. Griffin tipped the ball to himself and gathered it in the end zone for his 13th career interception and second in as many weeks.

"It was tipped, and I just continued to go through with the play, and I managed to make a great play on the ball," said Griffin, adding that the pressure that linebacker Stephen Tulloch applied on the play helped the outcome.

Verner intercepted Romo in the fourth quarter, and Tulloch followed with an interception of his own to seal the victory. Tulloch, who recorded the second interception of his career and first since his rookie season in 2006, led the Titans with 13 tackles.

"We took advantage of the turnovers and created plays off the turnovers, and it was just a heck of a day," Tulloch said.

Titans extend streak

Tennessee extended its win streak against NFC teams to 11 straight games, dating back to 2007. The streak is an Oilers/Titans franchise record and the longest current inter-conference win streak in the NFL.

When asked about the streak, Fisher said: "We just challenge everybody in the building to become familiar with your opponent. We're just going to play hard and have fun and when the game's over and you're fortunate enough to win, you can celebrate."

NOTES: Rookie receiver Damian Williams recorded his first career reception and finished with two catches for 30 yards. … Linebacker Gerald McRath returned to the Titans' lineup after completing a four-game suspension and recorded eight tackles. Tennessee was flagged four times for 40 yards. Dallas was flagged 12 times for 133 yards.

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