NASHVILLE – The Titans beat the Falcons 24-10 on Sunday in Atlanta.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the game as the team begins to turn its attention to the Buffalo Bills.
Defense, Defense, Defense
The Titans defense has played well enough to win four games this season. Despite some frustrating losses, the defense has kept plugging away and on Sunday the payoff was a big win. The Titans racked up five sacks (for the second time this season), got three fourth down stops and held Atlanta's big-time playmakers in check while playing with a swagger. There were heroes across the board, from Jurrell Casey (sack, forced fumble) to Harold Landry (two sacks) to Rashaan Evans (10 tackles, ½ sack) to Jayon Brown (seven tackles, a sack). The entire secondary stepped up, including Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro and Adoree' Jackson. I've about named everybody here, and I left some other contributors out. It was that kind of day. On the season, the Titans are now No.4 in the NFL in scoring defense (points allowed).
Following a loss to the Jaguars, the Titans offensive line was the subject of plenty of scrutiny, and it was deserved. Heck, the Titans allowed 17 sacks in the first three games, including nine in Jacksonville. But it was a different story on Sunday. Quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't sacked a single time on a day when running back Derrick Henry ran for 100 yards. Mariota gave a big tip of the cap to center Ben Jones for anchoring the offensive line with some changes around him, including Jamil Douglas and Nate Davis each playing right guard. All five guys deserve props for a clean operation.
Mariota is the only quarterback who has started every game this season and has yet to turn the ball over. In four games, Mariota has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions and he's now on pace to throw for 28 touchdowns and zero picks. Now that wouldn't be a bad season, huh? OK, OK, we're getting ahead of ourselves here. What the Titans want to see now is for Mariota to put together a string of nice games instead of some ups and downs. But what everyone saw on Sunday was positive – he was accurate with his throws, he got rid of the football, and he played with confidence.
The Falcons receiving corps gets the headlines, and understandably so with six-time Pro Bowler Julio Jones headlining the group. But rookie A.J. Brown and Corey Davis stole the show in Atlanta. Brown had three catches for 94 yards and two scores, and he showed off some nifty moves in the open field. Davis had a drop, but he also caught five passes for 91 yards and a score. Brown and Davis are big and physical, and if Mariota can keep finding them, they'll garner more headlines as the season goes on.
So, about that fourth-and-one call. Titans coach Mike Vrabel showed in his first season as head coach he's not afraid to roll the dice. He went for the win in London with a two-point try, and he regularly went for it on fourth down. Well, Vrabel's at it again – he went for it on 4th and 6 in Jacksonville, and instead of taking the points against the Falcons, he went for it on 4th and 1. Whether you like the call or not, no one should be surprised. It's Vrabel's way.
The "Fantastic" Brett Kern
Five punts, five punts downed inside the Atlanta 17. Titans punter Brett Kern put on a show on Sunday, with his punts downed at the 2, 5, 10, 10 and 17-yard line. Kern aided the Titans defense by putting Atlanta's offense in a hole to start drives. Kern averaged 45 yards on his five punts, but his net of 44.6 was key. After the game, Vrabel kept it simple when talking about one of the team's biggest weapons: "Our punter was fantastic."