NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Nissan Stadium was rocking on Sunday, as the Titans turned in a dominating performance against the New England Patriots.
After the game, players celebrated on the field, and in the locker room. The 34-10 win over the Patriots was an accomplishment to be proud of, and an attention grabber.
"It was fun, man," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Just a big-time win."
"We took it to the next level," linebacker Rashaan Evans added. "It's amazing."
But as the excitement calmed – and as players began vacating the locker room – some of the Titans pointed to a lesson learned. With Sunday's win, the Titans improved to 5-4, and they've now beaten both teams in last year's Super Bowl – the Eagles, and now the Patriots.
It brought safety Kevin Byard back to September.
"A win like this, it says we are on the playoff hunt," Byard said. "It just shows that when we play our ball and do what we need to do, and focus on us and nobody else, we can beat anybody in the NFL.
"But the last time we started feeling ourselves (after a win over the Eagles), we lost three straight games. So we can't get caught up in the excitement. Every week it's a different challenge."
The challenge was a big one on Sunday, as the Patriots rolled into town.
But the Titans were unfazed, and they sent the Patriots (7-3) packing with a convincing performance.
The Titans took control early, and never looked back.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 16-of-24 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and posted a passer rating of 125.0.
Titans receiver Corey Davis caught seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the contest, and running back Derrick Henry ran for two touchdowns as the Titans pulled away.
Mariota has now thrown five touchdowns and only one interception in the past three games after throwing just two touchdown passes (and four interceptions) in the first five games of the season.
The Titans have now won two straight heading into next Sunday's game at Indianapolis.
"Guys are getting more and familiar with the system, guys are building confidence," Mariota said of the success on offense in recent weeks. "And if you combine all those factors you tend to score points."
On the flip side, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed 21-of-41 passes for 254 yards in the game before being replaced late by back-up Brian Hoyer.
The Titans flustered the 19-year pro, forcing him to get rid of the ball before he wanted to. The defense had Brady ducking pressure throughout, causing his throws to sail. Brady was sacked three times, hit six times, and found himself running from defenders all game.
"We got pressure early on him," said Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had 1.5 sacks and was credited with three quarterback hits. "And the thing with Brady is if you get pressure early on him, it can mess with the o-line's head. He is going to be yapping. … We just wanted to keep him unhappy.
"Any time you get hit at quarterback, you don't like that pressure. We stuck to the game plan and attacked the middle of the pocket. We couldn't let him get comfortable back there and pick us apart … and he didn't."
Return man Darius Jennings started the game with a bang, returning the opening kickoff 58 yards to put the Titans in good field position, at the New England 40.
Seven plays later, Mariota connected with tight end Jonnu Smith for a four-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
After the Patriots cut the lead to 7-3 on a 52-yard field goal by kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Titans stretched the lead to 14-3 on a beautifully thrown, 23-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Davis, which capped off a nine-play, 78-yard drive. The Titans then made it 17-3 on a 33-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop.
The Patriots cut the lead to 17-10 on a one-yard touchdown run by fullback James Develin, but the Titans gained some momentum back before halftime, as Henry scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 1:09 left in the second quarter to make it 24-10.
The Titans stretched their lead to 27-10 on a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Then came another scoring drive for the Titans, which was capped off by another run by Henry – this one from 10 yards, from the Wildcat. It made it 34-10 with 7:13 left, and sent a bunch of Patriots fans headed to the exits.
After the game, Vrabel already began the conversation about next week's challenge.
"We've got to go on the road against Indy," he said. "I'm not sure, but they've scored over 30 points in a lot of games from what I've been able to look at. That will be another challenge, just like it is every week. We play the people that are on our schedule, and whatever they did last year, they did last year.
"I'm sure people make a big deal about (the win over the Patriots). We're excited, we're going to be excited for this victory. The players, credit to them, and let's keep moving forward. Let's get on the road and get ready for Indy."
The Tennessee Titans take on the New England Patriots in Week 10 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the New England Patriots in Week 10 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)