The Tennessee Titans appear to have found their identity, ugly as it may be sometimes, in simply finding ways to win football games.
The Titans aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing team to watch, but at 8-4, they aren’t about to apologize for leading the AFC South and for dispensing with the Houston Texans, 24-13, on Sunday.
“That’s the identity,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “There are some tough guys in this locker room that aren’t going to give up. …We’re gonna tough it out and get the W. I love it. I’m excited.
“In past years, I didn’t think we had the fight. But we’ve got the fight to finish games. We start slow but we finish it, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Even that final score is deceiving in just how close the game was until the final minute and a half.
That’s when backup cornerback LeShaun Sims had a game-deciding interception with the Titans nursing a 17-13 edge with 1:30 to play, after having just allowed the Texans to convert a fourth-and-19 play with the unlikely combo of Tom Savage to Stephen Anderson to keep the drive alive.
Sims’ interception led to the Titans being able to run out the clock, and then – just as he did in a Monday night game against Indianapolis earlier this season – Derrick Henry punctuated things with a 75-yard touchdown gallop to account for the final score.
“We don’t want to have a slow start, but we finish and that’s the positive of it,” Henry said of the Titans, who rallied from a 10-0 deficit early to forge a 10-10 tie by halftime.
After spotting the Texans 10 points, first on a field goal following Adoree’ Jackson’s fumble of a punt on Tennessee’s opening possession, and then giving up a 4-yard TD pass from Savage to Anderson in the second period.
The Titans answered with Marcus Mariota’s 9-yard touchdown run, and then tied it when Ryan Succop kicked a 43-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the half after an earlier miss from 40 yards.
The game stayed that way in the third quarter, when the Titans dodged another bullet as Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn inexplicably shanked a 28-yard field goal attempt that would have given Houston the lead again.
Given new life after that, the Titans went back to work, answering with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in Mariota hitting Walker with a 24-yard touchdown pass to give Tennessee the lead for good.
The score stayed 17-10 until the Texans kicked a 42-yard field goal by Fairbairn that trimmed the lead to 17-13 with 4:37 left in the game.
Tennessee then stumbled offensively in the next series with a clumsy three-and-out and the defense certainly bent, but did not break after allowing the Texans to convert on fourth-and-19 following three straight false starts before Sims’ decisive interception.
“Find a way to win,” linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “It’s never easy to win in this league, but we’re just finding ways to win. That’s what good teams do.”
When it was over, Titans players agreed that finding wins is becoming the team’s identity. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has noticed the change and credited his quarterback with having a huge part in it.
“My first two years here, it was the exact opposite. Anytime there was a close game, we found a way to lose. I think the leadership of (Mariota) really makes us what we are,” Lewan said.
Mariota played mistake-free on Sunday, hitting 15 of 23 passes for 150 yards with one touchdown and most importantly no interceptions.
“It’s all that really matters,” Mariota said. “When it comes down to it, if you can win the games that you need to it doesn’t matter what the score is as long as you come out on top.”