TAMPA – The Titans beat the Buccaneers 34-3 in preseason game No.2 here on Saturday night.
Here's a look at six things that stood out:
Titans cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden took the field side by side as they made their rookie debuts in preseason game No.2. It was an eye-opening performance for Molden, who was credited with eight tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, one pass defensed, and one forced fumble. "I want to give a shout-out to my fellow rookie brother Elijah Molden," Farley said afterward. "I feel like he was out there ballin' and locked in." Molden, a third-round pick, said it was a blast. "It was really so much fun," he said. "It felt really special. I just want to give everything to the team." Farley played a lot fewer snaps than Molden, and he admittedly felt a little uncomfortable. Farley got beat on a ball down the sideline, but Buccaneers receiver Scotty Miller couldn't get both his feet inbounds. Still, for the first-round pick, it was a start. "I was extremely excited just to get on the field and be with my teammates playing football again," Farley said after the game. "It's been since 2019 since I played in a football game, so it was an incredibly special, emotional moment for me. As far as playing-wise I am just excited to get better. I felt kind of stuck in the mud, sloppy. But I am excited just to have gotten back out there and continue the process of getting better. … I am trying to put winning football on tape for this organization. I am focused on getting better."
Defense, Defense, Defense
No, quarterback Tom Brady and Tampa Bay's other top playmakers on offense didn't play against the Titans, just like Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and his top supporting cast a week ago. Still, what the Titans defense has done the past two weeks has been impressive. One week after allowing only six first downs, 138 total yards and 21 net passing yards against the Falcons, the Titans allowed just 11 first downs and 207 yards of offense to the Buccaneers. The Titans held Tampa Bay to just 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) on third down. In two games, the Titans have allowed just a pair of field goals – and no touchdowns. And players continue to make plays, from sacks (David Long Jr, John Simon, Molden) to interceptions (Jamal Carter, Clayton Geathers). Briean Boddy-Calhoun also returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown. Sure, some of the players making big plays now might not be on the field when the regular season gets here, but the display of effort and play-making ability by the Titans defense in the preseason so far has been impressive.
While starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been a spectator, back-up quarterbacks Logan Woodside and Matt Barkley have gotten extended playing time, and both have played well. Barkley was 12-of-16 for 115 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday night, and his passer rating in two preseason games is 130.0. Woodside, meanwhile, was 7-of-8 for 64 yards and a score, and his passer rating is 119.5. Both players have clearly taken advantage of the opportunities, and Tannehill, to his credit, has enjoyed cheering them on. "Coach Tannehill tonight," Woodside said with a smile. "It is good, him being out there. Obviously me and him are pretty tight – he gave me a good talking to at halftime, told me to keep my head up and get ready to play the second half. So, it was good to have him out there, in me and Matt's corner."
The Titans have a loaded room at receiver, and the underdog Mason Kinsey continues to get himself noticed nonetheless. A week after leading the team with four catches for 51 yards in Atlanta, Kinsey made a splash again on Saturday night. Kinsey, who played at Berry College, once again led the team with six catches for 56 yards and a score – a 20-yard strike from Barkley in the fourth quarter. "It probably wasn't the best route I could have run," Kinsey said after the game, "but Matt put it in a really good spot and I went down and made a play." Kinsey gave the football – his first career NFL touchdown – to his mother. Through two preseason games, Kinsey leads the Titans with 10 catches for 107 yards. He's an easy guy to root for, and his teammates clearly enjoy cheering him on. "He's been making plays throughout camp, with his speed," Barkley said of Kinsey. "I knew that he was going to win. He did a great job."
Ficken is Really Kickin'
So, what's everyone think about kicker Sam Ficken now? Waived by the Jets earlier this month, the Titans took a flier on Ficken when they claimed him. At the time, it appeared Ficken was a back-up plan for Tucker McCann. Well, something interesting has happened in the last week – Ficken has gotten extremely hot, and he's looking like a real contender. With a perfect night against the Buccaneers, Ficken is now 3-of-3 on field goals in games, 6-of-6 on PATs in games, and 48-of-53 in practices. He was 16-of-18 in joint practices with the Buccaneers, and he hit a 48 yarder and a 58-yarder on Saturday, with room to spare on the last one. The 58-yarder was the longest in Ficken's career at any level. "Kicking that (direction)," Ficken said, "we felt good probably up to 61 (yards). I hit a good ball, and I'm pretty happy with it." With McCann still sidelined after being roughed against the Falcons, Ficken has made the most of his opportunities. "Obviously any time you get an opportunity to get more reps, it is a blessing," he said. "Obviously I was hitting the ball pretty well this week, and it carried over into the game."
Dez Fights Back
The struggles of rookie receiver Dez Fitzpatrick have been well-documented during training camp, and they were brought to light even more when Titans Coach Mike Vrabel indicated he needs to step it up. Well, Fitzpatrick showed some signs of life on Saturday night, when he caught two passes for 30 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown thrown by Woodside. "Dez is working hard," Woodside said. "I think a play like that could really flip the script on his season. I was excited for him, and I was fired up for him. I was glad I could get him the ball and he could go score." Fitzpatrick, a fourth-round pick of the Titans in the 2021 NFL Draft, said he's been buoyed by the support he's received from family, and teammates. He said his mother has been texting him Bible scriptures every morning to encourage him. Fitzpatrick said he met several times last week with team chaplain James "Mitch" Mitchell, who inspired him further. Fitzpatrick believes he's making progress. "I think I definitely grew in the right way (this week)," Fitzpatrick said. "There's still a lot of work I've got to do, but I have to keep growing, I have to keep being consistent, and I have to keep growing as a player."