In recent weeks, the Tennessee Titans have ridden the right arm of quarterback Marcus Mariota to most of their victories.
But Sunday’s 13-10 victory over Denver Broncos, one that is the franchise’s biggest win in recent memory, it was the old formula the Titans had talked about since before the season began – defense and the running game.
The Titans used their “smashmouth” approach to run for 180 yards, while holding the Broncos to just 18 yards rushing in the contest.
It allowed Tennessee to post a key victory to stay tied with Houston atop the AFC South, despite the lowest output of the year from Mariota. The Titans’ second-year quarterback, who had had at least two touchdown passes in eight straight games, struggled to complete passes, hitting just 6 of 20 throws for 88 yards. But it was enough to help the Titans to their seventh win with a big assist from the defense and the rushing attack.
“That’s how it is going to be sometimes,” Mariota said. “We had to grind it out a little bit on offense, make plays when we needed to, and guys did. Again, hats off to the defense. They deserve a lot of the credit for this victory.”
The Titans defense, much maligned for most of the season, turned in its best performance of the season.
“We knew coming into today that our offense was going into a very good defense. And we talked about it all week,” said safety Rashad Johnson, who had two forced fumbles in the game. “We were going to have to carry the load and outplay their defense. We were able to do that today and stop the run, not giving up any big plays, and then winning the turnover battle.”
The Titans offense wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective on the ground in the first half, when the Titans had 20:19 in time of possession.
“I think one of our strengths is being able to run the football, chew up the clock; it’s part of our defense,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s a good way to keep our defense off the field.”
In winning with such a formula that had been prescribed early in the year as their identity, and doing it against the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos, it may have helped legitimize a Titans franchise that just a year ago was arguably the worst team in the league at 3-13.
“We just beat the Super Bowl champions. … I think we earned a lot of respect today, and we’re not going to stop playing hard ever,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “This is what this team is made of. We’re a bunch of grinders, and we’re going to keep grinding.”
Titans linebacker Sean Spence suffered a left ankle injury in the second half of the game. He was seen limping in the locker room with the ankle heavily taped.
Marcus Mariota, despite his worst statistical day of the season, did go over the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season, becoming the first Titans QB to do so since Matt Hasselbeck in 2011.