The Tennessee Titans don’t mind swimming upstream.
In the pass-happy NFL of today, Sunday saw the Titans winning a game by scoring their first points of the second half in nearly a month and hanging on for dear life at the end with David Long’s goal-line interception.
Two weeks ago, it was backup linebacker Dylan Cole tipping away a two-point conversion pass against the Raiders. Last week, it was keeping the Indianapolis Colts from completing a second-half comeback. Sunday, it was another goal-line stand.
The Titans are rarely going to wow you with their style of play. It’s one that the mid-1980s defense-minded Giants and Bears would be proud of.
But while most every other team in the league zigs with strong-armed playmaking quarterbacks and flashy wide receivers, here are the Titans zagging with a run game and a handful play-action passes to get a few points and then asking a bend-but-don’t-break defense to save them from the fire at the end.
And the baffling thing is it works more often than not. Even with very little margin for error, and new faces filling in on the roster on a weekly basis, the Tennessee Titans sit at 3-2 and in first place in the AFC South heading into their bye week. This comes just three weeks after they had been given up for dead after an 0-2 start that included being obliterated in front of a national audience in a 41-7 loss at Buffalo.
Coach Mike Vrabel credits the players with the rebound: “It comes from the players and just being confident in what we’re doing.”
But the truth is the confidence and the buy-in largely stems from Vrabel. Consider this: In Indianapolis, the Titans nearly blew a 24-3 lead, holding on to win against the Colts. The offense gained a whopping 28 yards in the second half, enough to prompt Derrick Henry to say on TV that that type of performance was not satisfactory.
But by the time Henry and other players met with the media after the game, that message had changed. It was about being appreciative of a road win in the division, despite the team’s shortcomings.
Vrabel’s postgame statements about that game could be applied to Sunday’s win against the Commanders and many other Titans wins during the past few years.
“We won the game 24-17. Excited as hell about it,” Vrabel said in the opening.
About holding off a big comeback: “That’s called the National Football League. Excited to win on the road in the division.”
About being 2-2 at the time. “Guys kept battling, so proud of this football team. I’m proud to coach them. They compete and they fight – whoever is out there. We were able to finish the ballgame down on the road.”
Fast forward to Sunday, and you can see that the fight in the Titans to the very end emanates from their head coach.
“I just think that says a lot about us, hard-nosed, blue collar and just never panic. It just shows. I can think of a lot of games where it came down to, even this year, it comes to that last drive and somebody has to make a play,” Long said following his game-saving interception.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said seeing is believing with the Titans, even when things look bleak.
“I’ve seen over the years here, our defense is going to keep battling and defend every blade of grass,” he said. “I kept the faith and believed they were going to make a play. I didn’t know what was going to happen, who was going to make a play, but David came up huge there at the end.”
And while the Titans aren’t the healthiest, most-talented or most-explosive team in the league by a wide margin, the culture that starts at the time from Vrabel and seeps throughout the organization is hard to deny.
“No doubt it grows, just believing in each other that we’re going to find a way to win,” Tannehill says. “Winning is contagious, you know, so you get that winning taste, that winning feeling, you get that locker room after the game, those are things you never forget, celebrating in those locker rooms after wins.
“As a team gets a taste of that, it really brings you together as a team, and that belief only grows,” he continues. “We’ve got some good things going. We need to clean up some things, but we’ve got some good things going, and we just want to keep the foot on the gas and keep going.”
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.