NASHVILLE — The Titans beat the Saints 23-21 on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the contest …
Marcus Johnson Steps Up
Julio Jones is on Injured Reserve. On Sunday, receiver A.J. Brown was held to just one catch for 16 yards. The Titans needed someone to step up in the passing game, and that someone ended up being receiver Marcus Johnson. Against the Saints, Johnson had five catches for 100 yards, including a 50-yard reception. Every time the Titans needed a play in the passing game, it seemed like No.88 was there to make it. "It was huge," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Johnson's performance. "It was what we needed to see from Marcus. I think Marcus needed to see a little bit of that for himself." Johnson said the game was a confidence booster for him, but most importantly it helped the team. "It feels great," Johnson said. "I obviously believe in myself, but sometimes you need to show it. You need to prove yourself right, as well as anybody else who needs to see it. So it was big for me, and I am thankful I was able to contribute like that."
The Titans were holding on for dear life at the end, leading 23-21 with 1:16 left following a Saints touchdown. It came down to a two-point play, and the Titans needed a stop to avoid the chance of overtime. The Titans got a stop. Saints quarterback Trevor Siemian looked to connect with running back Mark Ingram on a pass just inside the end zone, but Titans linebacker Jayon Brown was on Ingram's hip. Cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins also came off Saints receiver Marquez Callaway to converge on the play, and the ball hit the ground. It was pretty much game over at that point – at least until Titans receiver Nick Westbook-Ikhine recovered the onside kick. "I was just playing my technique and had them in a pretty much man-to-man situation, and he got me earlier in the game for I think a 36-yard gain," Brown said. "Last play of the game, I saw the wheel coming, hit him coming out of the backfield which I think slowed him down, and the pass was short, and it fell incomplete. Overall, it was a short pass and got the offense the ball to take a knee."
Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons has been a real force of late. He followed up his three-sack game against the Rams last week with a two-sack game against the Saints on Sunday. Simmons recorded both his sacks in the first half, and he also finished the game with two tackles for a loss and a batted pass on top of it. Simmons, who now has 7.5 sacks on the season, is emerging as one of the game's most disruptive lineman. And, Simmons is loving it. "Each day, each game, I want to get better," Simmons said. "I want to get better each and every week, and hopefully next week I'll play at a higher standard. I love what I do, and I love who I do it with." The Titans tallied four sacks on Sunday, as outside linebacker Harold Landry and defensive lineman Naquan Jones also recorded sacks.
The Titans made some big plays on special teams on Sunday, and it contributed to the win. For starters, kicker Randy Bullock was a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals, and 2-of-2 on extra points. His accuracy was even more evident on a day when the Saints missed two PATs. Titans punter Brett Kern had a 40.2-yard net on a windy day, and he put a punt down the 13. The Titans did a nice job on coverage teams against a dangerous Saints return game as well. But the biggest play came at the start of the second half, when linebacker Dylan Cole forced a fumble that was recovered by fullback Tory Carter. It set up a touchdown. "Just trying to do my job," Cole explained. "If you asked me two weeks ago where I would be at, I thought it would be on my back patio watching this game. I am just fortunate to be here, and when the plays come, I just have to make them."
OK, let's face it, it wasn't pretty a good chunk of the day on offense for the Titans. The Titans managed just 3-of-12 on third down tries (25 %), and only 17 first downs. The Titans managed just 66 yards on the ground, and an average of just 2.3 yards per carry. The Titans had four three-and-outs, and aside from the 50-yard pass to Johnson, the offense didn't make a lot of plays downfield. The Saints deserve credit for making things tough on the Titans. But Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill knows the team needs to be better. "Obviously we've got to clean some stuff up," said Tannehill, who completed 19-of-27 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown on the day. "But I'm never going to apologize for a win. I'm proud of our guys. We battled through. We were able to make some plays when it counted and come away with a win. Proud of our guys, stepping up and finding a way to come away with a win."
Finding a Way
Yes, these Titans just keep finding ways to win. Despite injuries, and despite dealing with plenty of adversity, the Titans have now win six games in a row. On Sunday, the Titans became just the second team in NFL history to win six straight games against playoff teams from the previous season (2003 Eagles). The Titans committed some sins against the Saints, but they survived, and found a way to improve to 8-2. Through 10 games, the Titans remain the No.1 seed in the AFC. Titans Coach Mike Vrabel will keep pushing his team to be better, but he has to be pleased with the effort, heart, and resiliency. "We've proven that over the course of three and a half years that some days they're going to be really good and you're going to have your fastball and everything's going to be clicking, and some days it's going to be a little tougher sledding," Vrabel said. "And certainly, that was the case today. But they know how to win. They do know how to win. I'm thankful for that."