What doesn’t kill the Titans seems to make them stronger.
Given up for done, the Titans somehow seem to save their most improbable performances for when its least expected.
And they’ll need another one Sunday when they visit 7-3 Indianapolis 17 days after losing 34-17 at home to the Colts in a Thursday night game.
Sunday’s 30-24 overtime win in Baltimore wasn’t quite as stunning or as important as last year’s playoff victory at M&T Bank Stadium. But it did provide yet more evidence that Mike Vrabel has a knack for getting through to his players when it is needed most.
In early October, when the club was ravaged by COVID-19, some were calling for heavy fines, forfeited games and even canceling the Titans’ season. Yet Vrabel and his staff cobbled together the team’s most complete performance of the year – a 42-16 rout of the Buffalo Bills.
Then Sunday, with the Titans’ playoff hopes sagging and trailing the Ravens by 11 points, suddenly the grit and determination that had seemed with three losses in four games was back and on full display as Tennessee managed to pull out the win in overtime.
Some might have excused the Titans if they hadn’t won Sunday. After all, Baltimore was playing to avenge a dream season ruined by Vrabel’s Titans back in January.
And Tennessee was hobbled in a number of positions, down to playing an undrafted rookie, Aaron Brewer, making his NFL first start at left guard. They had Josh Kalu playing the dimeback position because Amani Hooker, who had an interception in the game, was filling in for starting safety Kenny Vaccaro.
As the game wore on, more unexpected contributions came from unexpected places. Guys like Geoff Swaim, Cameron Batson and Breon Borders were called upon to play roles in Sunday’s win.
There was Will Compton, tossed on the scrap heap a couple of times by the Titans and then brought back, filled in when linebacker Jayon Brown went down with a broken and dislocated elbow, ending his season.
And David Quessenberry, a cancer survivor and the Titans’ third left tackle this season, finished the game when Ty Sambrailo, himself a replacement for Taylor Lewan, went down in the fourth quarter.
The one guy who did not appear surprised that the Titans managed to come away with a win playing practice squad players, undrafted rookies and castoffs was Vrabel.
“I think guys are ready for their opportunity,” Vrabel says. “They are excited to play. I think Aaron Brewer was excited to play. I think Amani Hooker and Josh Kalu [were excited], and nobody is more into it than David Quessenberry.
“I know Will Compton was excited to play, and made some plays, and made some tackles,’’ he adds. “It is really difficult to go all week with a group of guys that are practicing a game plan, especially with one that is as specific as it was this week.
“Having guys go down, and having guys step up to be able to execute that without having to change everything, just a lot of credit to our players – those of them that stepped in and executed.”
How deep did the contributions on this Titans team go? Backup quarterback Logan Woodside completed his first NFL pass, sneaking in as the personal protector on a fake punt and firing a completion to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, a player who had more drops than UPS in training camp but held on for a key first down.
“Logan Woodside helped us win the game,” Vrabel adds.
The deep roster dive is something that likely will have to continue as the season goes on as the Titans are wracked by injuries and the situation is not getting better.
The Titans already had seven players listed as out entering Sunday’s game, and that was before Brown went down.
Receiver A.J. Brown said that no matter who takes the field for the Titans, playing gritty, team-first football is the team’s identity.
“To be honest, just playing our style of football,’’ Brown says. “This is the NFL. You’re not just going to go out there and just roll over everybody. You’ve just got to show up every day. We’re just going to try and get a win each week.’’
Even as the Titans appear outmanned, Vrabel’s ability to rally his troops is one of the best things the team has going for it, no matter the circumstances. That was evident even to the players on the other side.
“It looked like that team wanted it more than us,” Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson said after Sunday’s game.