Titans Finally Finish, Beat Lions

Posted at 11:25 AM, Sep 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-19 12:25:12-04

The Titans took possession at their own 17-yard line trailing the Lions by five with just over 7:00 to go Sunday. It was a chance and that's all they were looking for.

In a game marred by 12 penalties, an interception, blown coverages and a missed field goal it was remarkable they were even still in it.

But they were. And for the first time in over nine months the Titans were finally ready to finish, led by their franchise player.

Marcus Mariota directed a 13-play, 83-yard drive capped by the game-winning touchdown pass to Andre Johnson on fourth and five with 1:13 to play.

The second-year quarterback showed his inexperience at times Sunday. He struggled with some calls at the line, took two sacks that knocked the Titans out of field goal range and threw an interception. But when the game was on the line he was money.

Facing a 15-3 deficit entering the fourth quarter, Mariota threw for a pair of touchdowns, completing all nine of his passes on the final drive. He was in control in taking what the defense gave him, converting a pair of key third down conversions. And on the game's decisive play, he put the ball in a spot that gave Johnson a chance to make a play.

Making the play to win tight games is something the Titans haven't done in a while. They were 2-6 in games decided by eight points or less last year and actually lost three of five games they led going into the fourth quarter.

But Johnson is headed to the Hall of Fame some day and, despite making just one catch in his second game with the Titans, he was ready for the moment. The 14-year veteran beat a linebacker in coverage and, with a defensive back converging to double team him, found the ball, absorbed contact and held on for the touchdown.

After the game, Mariota said that throwing Johnson's way on that critical play was an easy decision. "He's a future Hall of Famer. I mean, that's a no brainer," the quarterback joked.

Johnson says it was just his job to make the catch. But it was a catch Titans' receivers haven't made in recent memory. The type of 50/50 ball that this team has so often failed to make when the game was on the line.

And it wasn't just Mariota and Johnson. After the touchdown, Detroit got the ball back trailing by one with just over 1:00 to go and all three timeouts. The Lions were in a similar position in week one and Matthew Stafford drove them down the field for the game-winning field goal in Indianapolis.

But there would be no last minute rally this week as the Titans turned up the pressure, refusing to fall back into a prevent defense. They sacked Stafford for the fourth time in the game and forced hurried throws, the final one sailing right into the arms of Perrish Cox for an interception that preserved the 16-15 win.

It was a nice moment for Cox, who had played an otherwise awful game to that point, getting beat in coverage and missing tackles. But with the game on the line he stepped up and made the play to seal the game.

It's still early in the season, but statistics tell you how important Sunday's win can be for the Titans. Teams that start the season 1-1 have a better than 40 percent chance to make the playoffs while teams that start 0-2 make the postseason just 12 percent of the time.

And while the Titans have a long way to go to be a playoff team, on Sunday they showed the type of resolve you have to have in the NFL by winning a game in which they didn't play their best.

"This was the typical game the Titans normally lose," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "This is one step closer to getting to where we want to be, being a physical, tough football team that can withstand all types of adversity during a game and come out with a W."

After blowing a double-digit second half lead in week one against Minnesota, Mike Mularkey said the Titans just needed to learn how to finish.

Maybe a week was all it took.

"We learned we can finish games," Mularkey said after Sunday's victory. "We can come back, and we can do it on the road. There's a lot of really good lessons learned from that game."

There's no secret formula in the NFL. You have to have good quarterback play and you have to make plays when the game's on the line. The Titans got both Sunday.

And for the first time in a long time, those lessons Mularkey was talking about, came in a win.