The never-say-die Tennessee Titans took chances, tempted fate and wound up with an improbable 26-23 overtime victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles when Corey Davis caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota on Sunday.
Davis’ leaping catch over Avonte Maddox with five seconds to go in OT gave the Titans their most thrilling victory in Nissan Stadium in many years, and was their third win a row.
More than that, it was how the Titans won the game that was all the more impressive. Davis had his best day as a pro – nine catches for 161 yards and the game-winner – in the midst of a week where the Titans had receiver Rishard Matthews quit on the team on Wednesday.
“Literally, I was thinking, ‘Just go get it,’” Davis said. “(Mike) Vrabel always talks about players just making plays and that’s what it comes own to. So when the ball was in the air, all I was thinking was to go get it.”
Davis’ big play rewarded Vrabel’s risk-taking, as the Titans converted three times on fourth down out of necessity after the Eagles had scored a field goal on their first possession of the extra period.
It appeared as if the Titans would settle for a tie and let Ryan Succop kick a 50-yard field goal with 1:17 left in overtime.
Instead, Vrabel called timeout, sent the offense back out on the field, and a pass from Mariota to Dion Lewis in the flat gained 15 yards and kept the drive alive.
“That’s our coach. He’s a great coach. He was born to be a coach,” cornerback Logan Ryan said of Vrabel’s decision to gamble. “There’s no point in playing for a tie. It doesn’t help you. I love that. We were as surprised as everybody else, but I love that decision making. What’s the point of being 2-1-1?”
The Titans were rewarded one penalty and three plays later when Mariota found Davis for the winning score.
“I think that the players like being aggressive, and again, I’ve said this before, making the call is really the easy part,” Vrabel said. “Matt (LaFleur) called a great call that was well executed and I have faith in them. I have faith in their preparation, their practice and being able to execute in the most critical situations.”
Much of the execution on the final drive came courtesy of Mariota, who shook off a first half interception to have his best day of the season, hitting on 30 of 43 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 46 yards on 10 rushes, including a 17-yard run to set up fourth-and-two just before the decision to go for the critical fourth down and disdain the tying field goal.
“I just appreciate the fact that he has trust in us and the confidence in us as an offense. These last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride for us,” said Mariota, who is still wearing a half glove on his throwing hand to help him grip the ball due to a nerve issue in his arm. “To have that confidence instilled to us as players is huge.”
It was an uphill climb for the Titans for much of the day. After leading 3-0, they gave up a 56-yard touchdown to the Eagles from Carson Wentz to Jordan Matthews for a 7-3 Philadealphia lead.
The Eagles stretched that to 10-3 just before the half, as they turned a Mariota interception into a Jake Elliott field goal.
Philadelphia stretched the lead to 17-3 with a clock-chewing drive to star the third quarter. Wentz capped the 12-play, 75-yard march with a 16-yard TD toss to Alshon Jeffery. The drive lasted nearly half the third quarter, 7:24 to be exact.
Tennessee answered to cut the lead back to 17-10 as Mariota scrambled in from 2 yards out.
The Titans scored on their next two series, first after rookie Harold Landry stripped the ball from Wentz and teammate Derrick Morgan recovered at the Eagles’ 35. Succop made a 33-yard field goal off that to pull the Titans to within 17-13, before the Titans went 75 yards in five plays to take the lead. Mariota hit Tajae Sharpe from 11 yards out for the go-ahead score with 5:01 to play.
Tennessee could not hold the lead, though, as the Eagles tied it late on Elliott’s 30-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining in regulation. The Eagles looked to be in position to take the lead with a first down at the Titans’ 19 on that drive, but the Titans defense stiffened, forcing the field goal and OT.
The Eagles got the toss in overtime and took the lead 23-20 on Elliott’s third field goal of the game. Philadelphia again went deep into Titans’ territory, reaching the 17 with a first down, but the drive stalled, forcing the Eagles to settle for another field goal.
“It’s frustrating, obviously to come up short,” Wentz said, “especially as an offense when you have chances. We had chances to finish in the end zone at the end of the game, finish in the end zone in overtime, and we just didn’t execute in the red zone.”