The Tennessee Titans had heard all the hype about the Cleveland Browns and bought none of it on Sunday.
Instead, it was the Titans who turned in a complete performance to administer a season-opening 43-13 pounding in the Dawg Pound.
“We like being under the radar. They were who we thought they were. If you want to crown them, crown them. They still have play football. Today we showed that we play better football,” said tight end Delanie Walker, who channeled former Cardinals coach Denny Green when asked about the Browns’ hype following the game.
After allowing the Browns to score a touchdown on the game’s first drive, the Titans dominated pretty much the rest of the game, saving most of their best work for the second half.
The Browns aided and abetted the Titans by committing 18 penalties for 182 yards and getting two players ejected from the contest.
Despite the first Browns TD, the Titans maintained control for most of the game, getting a Cairo Santos’ 37-yard field goal on their first series to cut the Browns’ lead to 6-3. The drive was set up by a 47-yard completion to rookie A.J. Brown.
Tennessee then took the lead for good when Derrick Henry plunged into the end zone to make the score 10-6.
Later in the second quarter, following a Brett Kern punt that pinned Cleveland at its own 3-yard line, free agent pickup Cameron Wake sacked Baker Mayfield in the end zone to give Tennessee two points with a safety to push the lead to 12-6.
Tennessee added a 53-yard Santos field goal on its opening drive of the third quarter to go up 15-6, as Brown had a 51-yard catch to get the Titans in field goal position. That score came just before the Browns answered with a touchdown that cut it to 15-13.
From there, however, the Titans dominated – playing exactly the way this team was built to play. On the ensuring drive after the touchdown, Marcus Mariota hit Derrick Henry in the flat, and thanks to a great kickout block from Rodger Saffold, sprung free and raced 75 yards for the answering touchdown. That put the lead at 22-13.
“I knew going in that we had an opportunity with that play. It just hit. I knew that if I could get the ball to Derrick, it was going to have a chance. Guys did a great job of blocking down the field. When you get that guy in space, he’s tough to tackle,” Mariota said of the play call.
But the Titans weren’t done yet, as the secondary picked off Mayfield three times, with each leading to a touchdown. Kevin Byard’s pick helped to set up a Mariota to Delanie Walker .11-yard touchdown that broke the game open.
Logan Ryan later got an interception, his first as a Titan, to set up another Mariota to Walker TD, this one from 7 yards out to push the lead to 36-13.
Then, late in the game, Malcolm Butler picked off Mayfield and went into the end zone for the pick-six from 38 yards.
“I think as a defense we came into this game expecting to play great. I understand there was a lot of hype and things going on, but we had no panic. We gave up a touchdown the first drive and I came back to the sidelines and settled down,” Byard said. “I told myself ‘I think we can get this thing going’ and that’s exactly what happened. I made a play and Logan made a pick and then it was raining cats and dogs at that point.
“We visualize this. I don’t think it’s anything anyone is surprised by. We came here to win, we came here to do our job, we played titans football and no penalties. We played great.”
There were plenty of stars in the game, including Wake, who had 2.5 of the Titans’ five sacks in the game. There was Mariota, who quietly had 248 yards passing and three touchdowns among his 14 completions on 24 attempts. Mariota 6-of-6 throwing the football in the second half for 140 yards with three scores.
Also, there was Henry, who overcame a slow start to rush for 84 yards and a score, plus adding a passing TD catch on the 75-yard screen pass.
Rookie wide receiver Brown had 100 yards on his three receptions in his first NFL game.
And there was Santos, signed just with week when it was determined that Ryan Succop was not ready to go, connecting on two field goals, including tying his career long with a 53-yard boot.
The Titans will now return home to face the Indianapolis Colts for the home opener on Sunday.