NASHVILLE – It was another heart-stopping finish at Nissan Stadium on Sunday.
And another Titans win.
Just the way everyone likes it, right?
"Close games, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say this," Titans tight end Jonnu Smith said with a smile after the team's 27-23 win over the Buccaneers on Sunday. "Close games feel better than when you blown somebody out by 40. It is nail-biting, but that's the part of the game you've just got to love – that's what makes the game the game."
Like it or not, the Titans have sure made things interesting of late.
For the second week in a row, the Titans won a wild one at the end with a late stop from their defense.
It came after a gut-check drive from their offense and after a, um, gutsy fake field goal call by head coach Mike Vrabel in the closing minutes. You've probably heard by now the fake field goal didn't work, as punter Brett Kern was corralled short of the first down marker with the Titans clinging to a lead late.
But on this day, what mattered most was the fact the defense once again got critical stops in the end on a day when quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw three more touchdown passes, including the game-winner late.
"There were a lot of punches thrown, and we were able to have the knock-out punch in the end and we'll take it," said Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, whose interception with 18 seconds left sealed the win. "We always believe in ourselves.
"We are scratching and clawing, and we have a lot of fight in this team – a couple of defensive stands at the end the last few weeks. It is pro football, man. Just like pro basketball it comes down the last couple of minutes and you just have to make the plays to win the game."
Several players stepped up big for the Titans.
Trailing 23-20 late, Tannehill directed a 12-play, 90-yard drive and capped it off with an eight-yard touchdown pass to receiver A.J. Brown with 6:55 left.
The Titans appeared to be on the verge of extending their 27-23 lead, but Kern was stopped short on a fourth-down run with 3:41 left on a fake field goal try, and the Buccaneers got the ball back.
"We want to go win the football game," Vrabel said of the call. "Understand that we practice, and we study, we get looks, and we feel very confident in the look that we're going to get."
It didn't work as well as Kern's pass for a first down on a fake punt last week vs. the Chargers, but the Titans didn't fold.
And with the Buccaneers facing a fourth-and-one at the Tennessee 32-yard line, Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey stuffed Tampa Bay running back Peyton Barber for a loss with 1:53 left in the game.
"The lowest man always wins," Casey said afterward. " One-on-one block, the offense was blocking, so I made sure I won that battle."
When the Buccaneers got the ball back again, Ryan intercepted Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, setting off another celebration.
The Titans improved to 4-4 with the win.
"We have a saying that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time moments, and Jurrell has done that plenty and Kevin (Byard) has done that plenty in his career," Ryan said. "I am just happy I can make some of those now."
Tannehill threw three touchdown passes on Sunday, and he now has 505 passing yards and five touchdown passes in his first two starts since replacing Marcus Mariota as the starter.
Tannehill completed 21-of-33 passes for 193 yards with the three touchdown passes against the Buccaneers, and he finished with a 109.8 rating. It came a week after Tannehill completed 23-of-29 passes for 312 yards with three TD passes and a 120.1 rating in a win over the Chargers.
"Every time you can get a win in this league, it is going to be huge for you," Tannehill said. "We just have to keep improving, keep finding a way to win games. Today was ugly at times – the defense played their tails off and came up huge with the takeways to put us in great field position. The offense was able to take the plays to capitalize to get in the end zone once we got down there. It was ugly at times for the offense, but I felt like in the red zone we were good – we got in the end zone when we were down there."
The Titans took a 7-3 lead with 8:55 left in the first quarter on a five-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Smith. Moments earlier, Titans rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Mack recovered a mishandled snap by Winston at the 10-yard line.
Later in the first quarter, Tannehill connected with receiver Tajae Sharpe for a six-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans a 14-3 lead. The second score was set up by an interception by cornerback Malcolm Butler, who returned it to the Tampa Bay six-yard line.
The Titans led 17-15 at the half.
The Buccaneers took a 23-17 lead early in the third quarter, however, on a two-yard touchdown pass from Winston to receiver Mike Evans. Winston threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the contest, and Evans hauled in 11 catches for 198 yards and two scores.
The Titans cut the lead to 23-20 on a 42-yard field goal by kicker Cody Parkey, who also made a 51-yard kick in the first half, and that was the score after three quarters.
Then came the memorable finish.
The Titans travel to face the Carolina Panthers next Sunday.
"We've got it back to even," Vrabel said of the team's 4-4 mark at the halfway point. "We've got our heads above water. We're right at the edge of the water. We have to do everything we can to take the next step. That's always about making corrections, understanding situations, coaching them and trying to get as healthy as we possibly can."