NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Explosive runs, heroics on offense, late stands by the defense and a football that didn't want to stay in anyone's hands prompted Jason Jones to call Sunday's game the "most exciting game I've been a part of."
Chris Johnson rushed for 190 yards, equaling the output he had totaled in Tennessee's first five home games this season. He found running room and bounced off tacklers against Tampa Bay, however, for the third highest single-game rushing total of his four-year career.
Even with the long runs by Johnson — 11 of his 23 carries went for more than 8 yards — the Titans trailed with less than four minutes left in the game. Tennessee took the lead with a touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Damian Williams on fourth-and-goal. After an interception by Colin McCarthy, the Titans added a field goal by Rob Bironas for a 23-17 lead with less than two minutes to go.
The Buccaneers advanced the ball to the Tennessee 25-yard-line with 46 seconds left, but Jones got penetration during the snap that quarterback Josh Freeman fumbled. Freeman recovered the ball but Jones stuffed him for no gain, allowing the home team to take a deep breath.
"I don't know if it was the toughest (game to put away), necessarily," Michael Roos said. "It was different. It was rainy out there, sloppy, a lot of turnovers by both teams. It just came down to who was going to make plays at the end."
Roos and the rest of the offensive line gave Hasselbeck and Williams five seconds to improvise on the go-ahead touchdown. The play, like all scoring plays, was reviewed by officials to make sure Williams landed in bounds before it was verified.
"He rolled out to the right and I think his first read was covered," Roos said. "He was able to look back the other way and saw Damian in the back of the end zone. I didn't think he was that close to the end line. I thought maybe earlier he had stepped out of bounds and they were reviewing that. Then when they showed the initial replay, it looked from one angle that his heel was out of bounds. Then they showed the third angle. It was in-bounds and joy again."
Roos said it was tough to assess Johnson's full performance without watching film.
"I wouldn't say it's anything that different that we were doing or he was doing," Roos said. "It's just one of those games that everything came together right and could have been them missing tackles too. He was making great cuts, great reads and running hard."
The defense also appreciated Tennessee's rushing attack that gained 202 yards.
"It was great to see our running game get resurrected," safety Jordan Babineaux said. "I've been waiting to see Chris Johnson do his dance. It was great to see him have success as a runner."
Babineaux, who forced one of five fumbles by the Bucs (4-7), said the Titans (6-5) need to build on Sunday's win with this week's trip to Buffalo (5-6).
"At this point of the season we should be playing our best football," Babineaux said. "Despite the way the game went and the ups and downs throughout the game, we were victorious. I don't care what it looks like, at the end of the game, you win, that's all that matters."