Titans Bring Home Field Advantage Back

Posted at 7:16 AM, Nov 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-15 08:16:42-05

The Cheeseheads packed the Siegenthaler Pedestrian Bridge headed towards their favorite Honky Tonks on lower Broadway en-masse, still colored in green and gold, but much quieter than they were on the way to Nissan Stadium hours earlier.

This was supposed to have been the perfect cap to a weekend escape from the chilly late fall in the upper midwest.

A chance for those diehard fans to watch their beloved Packers in a new city and see a win against a team considered to be a weaker opponent.

But these are not the same old Titans. Their 47-25 thrashing of Green Bay on a sun-splashed day in Nashville is the latest example of that.

Seeing a crowd more fitting of a neutral site than a home game, the Titans came out determined to protect their turf.

First-year head coach Mike Mularkey elected to try an onside kick on the opening kickoff to make a statement to his team and the crowd.

"We wanted to send a message," Mularkey said. "What better way to do that than with the opening kickoff."

Even when the Packers emerged from the pile with the ball, the tone was set. The Titans were there to take this game, and they did.

After handing the ball to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense at midfield, the Tennessee defense held their ground forcing a three and out. Then on the Titans' very first offensive play DeMarco Murray broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run.

Just like that, what looked like a disastrous start to the game turned into a 7-0 lead. And the Titans didn't look back.

Murray later threw a touchdown on a halfback pass to Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker and made a 35-yard catch, demonstrating why he's one of the most complete running backs in football with a whopping 129 total yards in the first half alone.

Marcus Mariota continued his torrid pace, winning the head to head battle with Rodgers by throwing for four touchdowns and no interceptions. Over the last six weeks, Mariota's 17 touchdowns are more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

It's no longer just potential with Mariota. In just his second season he's already one of the best signal callers in football. He's that good.

But he also doesn't have to do it alone this season. In a dramatic change from recent seasons, the Titans have surrounded their quarterback with talent, starting with Murray and Walker.

An offensive line led by young tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin has protected Mariota and paved the way for the running game, and new receiving targets have emerged. A key free agent acquisition in the offseason, Rishard Matthews has become a bonafide no. 1 receiver, catching six touchdowns in the past six games.

The new-look, high-octane offense was on full display Sunday as the Titans scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions en route to the second highest first half point total in franchise history, including nearly four decades played as the Oilers in Houston. The 35-16 halftime lead drawing an ovation from the home fans that drowned out those of the visitors.

Even when the Packers pulled within 35-22 early in the third quarter on Rodgers' 20-yard touchdown run, the Titans responded. Mariota hitting rookie Tajae Sharpe for his first career touchdown catch, silencing the "Go Pack, go" cheers.

By the time Ryan Succop's second field goal of the game gave the Titans their highest point total since 2009, many of those Packer fans were filing for the exits.

"We wanted to quiet their crowd," Titans safety Rashad Johnson said. "We did even better than that. We got them to leave early."

The win pulls the Titans back even at 5-5 on the season and equals their win total from the past two seasons combined. It's the manner in which they won that was the biggest statement, though.

Nissan Stadium has been anything but a homefield advantage in recent years. With opposing teams' fans pouring in to a half empty stadium, the Titans had won just three of 21 home games dating back to 2013. But Sunday's victory was their third win in their last four games at Nissan Stadium, and it came in front of a nearly packed house.

Yes, things are changing in Nashville. Visitors beware.

"You can buy all the beer you want in Nashville," Walker said with a smile at his locker after the win. "But you're going home mad."