Three takeaways by Tennessee’s defense deep in Carolina accounted for 21 points and the Titans claimed a 34-27 victory over the Panthers at Nissan Stadium on Saturday.
All three turnovers by the Panthers allowed the Titans to take possession of the football in the red zone, and each time Tennessee’s offense was able to cash in for points, including the winning touchdown on a David Fluellen 3-yard run with 1:55 to play. That TD came after linebacker Aaron Wallace had forced a fumble on a sack of Panthers quarterback Garrett Gilbert that teammate Jimmy Staten recovered at the 3 with two minutes to play.
“It was a two-minute situation, so I knew I was going to get some opportunities (to rush the passer). I felt like I had a pretty good pass key. I ended up winning and getting the ball out,” Wallace said. “That’s a huge part of the game, getting the ball back for your offense. We were able to give them some opportunities, and it was a key one the end.”
Wallace’s play set up the game-winning score, but it was the first quarter turnovers that were just as big for Tennessee, coming off a struggle last week in a loss to the New York Jets.
After Marcus Mariota directed the Titans on a field goal drive on the game’s opening possession, Tennessee’s defense got the ball right back when Logan Ryan hit Devin Funchess following a reception, knocking the ball free. Safety Kevin Byard picked it up and returned it to the Panthers’ 13-yard line. Byard said he saw the ball out, and knew he had to get it.
“There are certain points in the game where technique has to go out the window. If the ball is on the ground, I’m taught to ‘see ball, get ball.’ So if I had to palm, or one-hand, I’ve got to get it,” Byard said.
From there, it took the Titans offense seven plays, but Mariota found Delanie Walker from 4 yards out and a 10-0 lead.
“It was a lot better (than last week),” Mariota said. “I thought we came out fast, made a couple of big plays, were able to go down and score. The defense got a huge, huge turnover.”
That was the end of the day for Mariota, who played two series, completing 6 of 8 throws for 61 yards. He also ran for nine yards on one of two plays called by a Titans fan who won the right to make the play calls in a charity auction.
The Titans defense wasn’t finished, however, as the Panthers turned the ball over again deep in their own territory. Derek Anderson, playing because Cam Newton is still not back from a shoulder injury, had a pass tipped by Titans rookie Jayon Brown and into the arms of Justin Staples, who took it back to the Carolina 17.
From there, Derrick Henry needed just one touch, going over a hole on the left side and into the end zone.
The Titans’ 17-0 lead would be chopped into by the Panthers, who eventually tied the game on Graham Gano’s 37-yard field goal with 3:51 to play.
The game looked doomed for overtime until Wallace’s strip sack and Staten’s recovery that set up Fluellen’s touchdown run.
The turnovers and the offense’s ability to cash them in for points was key for the Titans in the win.
“It’s a great sign. That’s what we have to have,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “That’s our intet. When you’ve got a lot of guys around the ball where they’re supposed to be, good things happen, and that’s exactly what happened.”