For the second week in a row, the Tennessee Titans escaped with a win, overcoming questionable coaching calls, a sputtery offense that finally came through and getting four turnovers in besting the Tampa Bay Bucs, 27-23 Sunday.
That win, which evens the Titans record at 4-4 this season, comes on the heels of a dramatic goal line stand last week in a win over the Chargers.
The Titans created both some of their own luck and some of their own distress Sunday.
Tennessee’s Harold Landry got a strip sack that set the Titans up with a chance to put the game away, but three plays went nowhere and the Titans lined up for a 46-yard field goal that would have given them a seven-point lead.
But Coach Mike Vrabel called for a questionable fake field goal with Brett Kern running on fourth-and-2 that failed and allowed Tampa Bay to get the football back with a chance to win with 3:41 to play. The play could have been much worse as punter Brett Kern, who was the holder on the play appeared to fumble. Tampa Bay recovered but officials blew the play dead on what could have been a Buccaneers touchdown.
“We’ve had that look and we’ve practiced it a bunch in the look that they gave us and that backer (Devin White) just shot over there and what looked like was the Red Sea closed up pretty darn quick. That guy made a great play,” Kern said of the play.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel trusted his instincts in going for it, even though it backfired and nearly cost the Titans.
“We want to go win the football. Understand that we practice, and we study, we get looks and we feel very confident in the look that we’re going to get,” Vrabel said. “They made a play, we didn’t, just like when we made a play at the end.”
That play came after the Bucs drove to the Titans’ 32 at the two-minute warning. Facing fourth-and-1, Jurrell Casey stopped a run play by Peyton Barber for a loss to stop one potential Bucs’ scoring threat.
But it took Tampa Bay’s fourth turnover of the day with 18 seconds left – Logan Ryan’s interception of Jameis Winston’s pass over the middle – to finally seal the win for the Titans.
“It was huge. Turnovers are huge,” Ryan said. “We know they have a lot of good skill players like (Mike) Evans, who had a heck of a day. Jameis has a big arm he’s gonna give his guys a chance, and when you do that they’re gonna come down with some, and we’ve got to come down with some. The turnovers were the difference at the end.”
The big defensive stops late in the game kept the Titans afloat. Casey said he knew a run play was coming on the fourth down play, and he was determined to win the battle.
“I knew they was gonna come out and that they were gonna run the ball. As soon as I got that call that they were gonna try to be running the ball, my whole objective was to get lower than him and shoot off the ball and make sure I win that battle.
“They called out the protection, and once they called it out (I knew it was a run). I’m a pretty smart football player.”
The defense’s play also made up for a sluggish Titans offense, giving them two early touchdowns with field position thanks to turnovers that allowed Tennessee to start those possessions in the red zone.
Ryan Tannehill, who completed 21 of 33 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns, found Jonnu Smith after a Winston fumble on an unexpected snap for a 5-yard TD pass to make the score 7-3. Later in the quarter, Malcolm Butler picked off Winston, and Tannehill found Tajae Sharpe for a 14-3 Titans lead.
“It was ugly at times for the offense, but I felt like in the red zone we were good,” Tannehill said. “We did get in the end zone when we were down there.”
The Bucs kicked a pair of field goals and Cody Parkey had a 51-yarder for the Titans as the score stood 17-9 before Tampa Bay scored with 15 seconds left in the half to cut it to 17-15. The tying two-point conversion try was no good.
Tampa Bay took the lead back in the third period, cashing in on a Derrick Henry fumble with a touchdown drive and two-point conversion to go up 23-17.
The Titans cut into that margin with Parkey’s 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
Tennessee then finally put together a sustained drive in the fourth quarter, taking 12 plays to go 90 yards. Tannehill found A.J. Brown for an 8-yard TD that gave the Titans a 27-23 lead and set up the drama that unfolded late in the Titans’ favor.
Guard Rodger Saffold left the game in the first half with a possible concussion and did not return. The Titans played the game without starting tight end Delanie Walker and starting cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who were both injured last week.