NASHVILLE, Tenn. —** Titans linebacker Avery Williamson was initially thinking "make the tackle." Just get Broncos tight end A.J. Derby on the ground, and keep the clock running in the closing minute.
Then he felt an opportunity to get the ball out, and he did.
The Titans pounced on the loose football after Williamson forced the fumble, and then ran out the clock. It started a wild celebration following a critical win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
"Oh, man, what a great feeling,'' Williamson said after the team's 13-10 win. "When we recovered that fumble I knew that was the end of the game. It was a surreal feeling. I probably won't sleep tonight thinking about it."
Yes, the defending Super Bowl champions came to town on Sunday, and the Titans didn't flinch.
They led from beginning to end, and sealed it when Williamson forced a fumble that safety Daimion Stafford recovered at the Denver 40-yard line with just 53 seconds left.
In the eyes of the Titans, it was no fluke.
"We didn't look at it as them being the defending champs,'' Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. "In the back of our minds we knew they went to the Super Bowl last year, yes. But when you step on the field that goes on the window. It is a football game, and we're across the line from one another. The most physical team is going to win. And that is basically what happened today."
The Titans improved to 7-6 with the victory, and remained in a first-place tie with the Houston Texans in the AFC South with three games left to play. The Texans beat the Colts on Sunday to keep pace. The Titans now control their own destiny.
The Titans led from the start here on Sunday, and on this day won it with their running game, and a resilient defense.
Running backs DeMarco Murray (92 yards) and Derrick Henry (42) were part of a 180-yard rushing attack for the Titans, who also got 38 rushing yards out of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota completed just 6-of-20 passes for 88 yards against the NFL's top-ranked pass defense.
But the Titans won it by slugging it out in the end, and getting some key stops.
"That's what you have to do in these kinds of games,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "You have to make plays … in crunch time and the defense did most of the day. They've done it all year. I thought it would be a one score game, just like it ended."
Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo believes the Titans have learned how to win.
"Previous years, we fell short so many times in these situations,'' Orakpo said. "But this is a totally revamped Titans team from head to toe, and previous times I am not too sure we win this game.
"There is definitely a different mindset, a different culture now that we are trying to instill in everybody. The winning message is starting to come into play…. The lowly Titans, as people looked at before, they're not around here any longer. It says a lot for us to beat those guys."
After forcing a three-and-out on defense, the Titans drove the field on their opening possession and scored on a one-yard touchdown run by Murray to take a 7-0 lead. The run capped off an 11-play, 70-yard drive that included a 23-yard reception by tight end Delanie Walker on third down.
On Denver's next possession, Titans safety Rashad Johnson forced a fumble by running back Justin Forsett, and cornerback Jason McCourty jumped on the loose football.
A few plays later, Titans kicker Ryan Succop connected on a 53-yard field goal to give the Titans a 10-0 lead with 5:48 remaining in the first quarter.
The Titans made it 13-0 just before halftime with Succop hit a 41-yard field goal, which capped off an impressive 19-play, 74-yard drive that took 8:04 off the clock.
The two teams played a scoreless third quarter.
After the Titans finished off a goal-line stand on defense early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos got the ball back on a short field and made quick work with a five-play, 26-yard drive.
A three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Siemian to receiver Emmanuel Sanders made it 13-7 with 9:58 remaining.
The Titans held the Broncos out of the end zone with a big defensive stand late in the game. After Denver reached the Tennessee 7, rookie linebacker Aaron Wallace sacked Siemian on first down before safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Brice McCain made nice plays in coverage to hold the Broncos, who were forced to settle for a 34-yard field goal from kicker Brandon McManus to make it 13-10 with 4:33 left.
Titans punter Brett Kern pinned Denver back at their own two-yard line with a late punt which was downed by receiver Tre McBride, and the Broncos were stopped when Williamson forced the fumble.
It was a beautiful sight for rookie safety Kevin Byard.
"I was on the bench at the time, me and Searcy were standing next to each other, and I was kind of in disbelief,'' Byard said. "The ball was out and we were kind of holding everybody back like someone kind of just got dunked on in basketball. It was probably one of the best moments of the season when you talk about the crowd, the sideline. It was amazing."
The Titans, however, know they can't celebrate long.
They travel to Kansas City next Sunday to face the Chiefs.
"We like the situation we are sitting in,'' Walker said, "but right now we are focusing on the Titans. We have a big game coming up in Kansas City, a cold one, against another physical team, and that is our main focus right now."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Denver Broncos in Week 14 action at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)