Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Titans are on Top Again


NFL Week 5 Takeaways


OCT 10, 2022


Mike Vrabel’s team isn’t quittingAnd it’s not that the Titans were overly impressive in edging the Commanders at FedExField on Sunday (it wasn’t a Picasso, that’s for sure). To me, it’s how player-driven Vrabel’s teams always are, and in this case I think that’s a big reason for Tennessee pulling itself out of an 0–2 hole, and back to 3–2 and first place in the AFC South.

“That’s exactly what it is,” linebacker David Long told me after the Titans’ win. “He comes in and he gives us the keys. He gives us the keys for us to win a game, and we harp on it all week. He reminds us to make sure that we know it, and that just comes with how much belief and faith we have in him as a coach. He gives us keys to go out there and win. When we have those keys, we usually end up winning the game.”

Long and the defense very literally took the keys to win the game on Sunday on Washington’s final two offensive snaps.

The first was second-and-goal from the two-yard line. Seeing passing-down back J.D. McKissic in the game rather than Antonio Gibson or Brian Robinson, and, given the situation (19 seconds left, Commanders out of timeouts), the Titans made an adjustment to essentially drop their entire defensive line into the shallow area right in front of Carson Wentz. So when the ball was snapped, there were defenders everywhere underneath, and defensive tackle Teair Tart knocked away a ball intended for McKissic.

“That shows what type of team we have,” Long said. “Whatever we need guys to do, even if it’s a big guy dropping in coverage, everybody’s hungry trying to make a play on the ball.”

Then, on third down, Long took matters into his own hands. Through the week, and into the game, the plan had been for Long to be aggressive at the line with Washington’s receivers. So on third-and-goal, Long followed that tendency—shoving receiver Terry McLaurin, while keeping his eyes on Wentz. He peeled off McLaurin, saw McKissic coming his way and, having baited Wentz into thinking his area would be vacated, easily stepped in front of the ball for the game-sealing pick.

“They made some plays earlier; that was kind of a test for me,” he said. “It’s just never panicking. It’s gonna come back. So this time I was more patient, eyes on the quarterback, and the play was there for me to make.”

Long and the Titans have made plays the past three weeks in responding to a heartbreaking season-opening loss to the Giants and a rout in Buffalo. And all of this started, Long said, with a players-only meeting after the Bills loss affirmed the Titans were still who they’ve been for years, and that the faith in the locker room and coaches shouldn’t waver.

It didn’t. And now the Titans are all alone in first place.

It has happened with Derrick Henry averaging under four yards per carry, Taylor Lewan and Harold Landry out for the year, and receiver A.J. Brown traded to the Eagles.

It’s also happened with a familiar formula even with all those guys who were central to creating it—the Titans think they’re tougher than most teams they’ll face. And for the most part, over the past few years, they’ve been right, with the final moments Sunday providing more evidence.

“Yessir, just never panicking,” Long said. “Like, Kristian [Fulton] had that penalty, O.K., don’t bring him down. Make sure he knows. He’s able to know it’s not the end of the day. I’m looking at him like, Don’t worry about it. Go make another play. Go make another play. So that’s just the type of team we have.”

And have had for a while now.

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