NASHVILLE – The Titans rallied for a 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out in the contest:
A.J. Brown Was Spectacular
All night long, teammates kept telling Titans receiver A.J. Brown: "Welcome back! Welcome back!" Brown returned to action after missing the last three games, and he made a heck of a difference. Brown caught a career-high 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, and he was a sparkplug all game long. Brown made a 42-yard catch on a down-field heave from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and he caught an 18-yard pass for a touchdown late. Brown came up big time and again on third down, which extended drives. "I am very grateful, just to play football again," Brown said. "I tweeted I missed playing football, because I did. I was on IR, watching the games. It was tough to watch. … This is what I love to do – I really feel like this is my purpose of living."
Second Half Comeback
The Titans looked flat-footed in the first half, held to just three first downs and 55 yards of offense. I'm not sure many folks at Nissan Stadium – or at home – gave them much of a chance. Heck, Pro Football Talk, a popular NFL site, tweeted this midway through the game: 'Are the Titans frauds? Discuss.' … Well, the Titans got off the mat in the second half, and staged an impressive second half comeback. The Titans scored 17-straight points to take the lead, and they kept coming when the 49ers tied it late. The last second field goal gave the team a 10-5 record, and put the Titans in great shape in the race for the AFC South. "Honestly, we don't pay attention to the doubters," Byard said. "We just play our brand of football, and do what we do."
The Titans knew on they'd be playing without left tackle Taylor Lewan and left guard Rodger Saffold. They found out on Thursday they'd have to play without back-up left tackle Kendall Lamm. So what happened? Rookie Dillon Radunz and Aaron Brewer stepped in and started on the left side of the offensive line, and they held their own. Radunz, a second-round draft pick, wasn't perfect. He was called for penalties and he had some lapses on his technique. But he did a solid job at left tackle while protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill from 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa and Co., as Tannehill had time to throw it, and the backs found room. "I feel like I did decent," Radunz said after his first career start. "Obviously there's things I need to improve on, but I didn't feel like I did terrible. The most important thing is the team got out with a win, and I was able to fill that role. I am grateful for the opportunity."
Third Down Success
Talk about getting it done under pressure. The Titans converted 9-of-16 opportunities on third down, and they converted on six third down conversions with 10-plus yards to gain. Brown was the target on many of those plays, but Nick Westbrook-Ikhine also came up big on a third-and-15 and tight end Anthony Firkser had a big catch on third-and-eight. The Titans were able to get into a rhythm because of their success on third down, as they extended drives and finished off drives with points. "I thought the scheme was good," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "I thought the players executed it well, being able to add extra guys into the protection. Receivers, allowing them to get down there and get the spots where they were in zones. I thought Ryan really looked sharp on that first one. He ripped it in there to Nick (Westbrook-Ikhine)."
Titans kicker Randy Bullock has been big in the clutch all season. Bullock kicked the game-winner in overtime at Seattle, and he kicked the game-winner in overtime against the Colts. With the Titans driving in the closing moments on Thursday night, Bullock had a feeling he'd be needed. And he delivered another game-winner, from 44 yards out, with four seconds left to lift the Titans. Bullock said it felt good to make the kick, which came on the anniversary of his father's death. "It's always really special to do your job to help the team win," Bullock said. "Today was really special for me individually. I don't know if many people know this, but it's the anniversary of when I lost my father. So it has a little more meaning for me today. It's an emotional day every year – I lost him December 23, 2004. It's been a little while, but you never forget a moment like that. … I think he'd be really proud. I felt like he was with me this evening."
Titans defenders preached all week about the need to make plays on defense, and on Thursday night, they delivered. Jackrabbit Jenkins intercepted 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the end zone in the first half, and safety Amani Hooker got him in the second half. Hooker's INT led to a touchdown, and Jenkins made a play that kept a touchdown off the board. The Titans defense rose to the occasion when the team needed it most, as they held the 49ers to just a touchdown in the second half while coming up with two interceptions and two sacks in the contest. "We knew we had to help out offense out," Hooker said. "Last week we felt like we didn't get any turnovers, and we wanted to make sure we came out tonight and got some. … We just stick together (as a team). No matter how many times we get hit, we're going to keep getting up and we're going to fight to the end."