Titans coach Mike Mularkey gambled, and his team’s defense forced some key turnovers, early and late.
It all added up to a 34-27 win for the Titans over the Panthers on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.
It was a big improvement from the previous week, when the team turned in an underwhelming performance in a loss to the Jets.“It was a good win,” Mularkey said. “I just told the team that it was a good win for a lot of reasons. The offense responded from last week and really the defense started off the game (well). I was really pleased with our special teams, we’re better in that phase right now and we’ll keep getting better.
“A lot of good things to learn off of it.”
The Titans did a lot of things right this week, including forcing a pair of early turnovers to set up a scoring barrage right out of the gate before a sun-baked crowd just two days before the eclipse shades the city.
“We just wanted to start fast,” Titans cornerback Logan Ryan said. “(Former Titans linebacker) Tim Shaw gave a speech to us the other night about being in the moment, and if you’re in the moment you can take advantage of your opportunity.
“… But that’s what we expect. We had a really good week of practice, and we really had a good training camp. Last week it may not have showed, but today it showed, which is encouraging.”
Mariota was good from the get-go. The Titans quarterback completed 6-of-8 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown – a four-yard completion to tight end Delanie Walker – before being replaced by back-up Matt Cassel in the first quarter. Mariota played two series.
Mariota connected with rookie receiver Taywan Taylor on a 20-yard pass across the middle on the first play of the game. On the next play, he ripped off a nine-yard run to his right.
Completions to receiver Tre McBride (for 21 yards) and tight end Jonnu Smith(six yards) put the Titans on their way, and set up a 34-yard field goal from kicker Ryan Succop to make it 3-0. Mariota later connected with Walker in the corner of the end zone.“It was a lot better,” Mariota said. “I thought we came out fast, made a couple big plays, were able to go down and score. The defense got a huge, huge turnover. For us to go down and score after that was big. We’ve just got to continue to build this momentum, build the foundation and get ready for the season.”
The Titans opted to sit running back DeMarco Murray, which allowed Henry a chance to start again, and make plays. Henry rushed for 36 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including a 17-yard run which gave the Titans a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Mularkey was aggressive in this one. The Titans went for it on fourth down three times in the first half converted all three, including once on a fourth-and-goal from the one – that’s where Henry scampered on for his second touchdown run, which made it 24-7 late in the second quarter.
The Titans set the tone early with big plays on defense.
Ryan forced a fumble on Carolina’s first offensive play of the game, and safety Kevin Byard pounced on it.
Later, Titans linebacker Justin Staples intercepted a Derek Anderson pass that was tipped by linebacker Jayon Brown. The Titans cashed both turnovers in for scores.“As a whole defensive unit, I think we came out here and accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Searcy said. “We were able to get turnovers, and give the ball back to our offense.”
Titans rookie Adoree’ Jackson excited the crowd with a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown, but it was called back because of a penalty.
After the Titans led 24-10 at the half, the Panthers scored twice in the third quarter, sandwiching a pair of touchdowns around a 50-yard field goal by Succop. The Panthers tied the score at 27-27 late in the fourth quarter on a Graham Gano field goal.
A huge defensive play set up the game-winning touchdown, a three-yard run by running back David Fluellen with 1:55 left. Fluellen’s touchdown run came after defensive lineman Jimmy Staten recovered a fumble caused by linebacker Aaron Wallace. Staten pounced on the ball at the 3, and Fluellen, who ran for 76 yards on the day, punched it in.
“It was great, to be able to help the team,” said Staten, who played at MTSU. “I was rushing and saw the ball pop out, and I hopped on it.”
The Titans face the Bears in preseason game No.3 next Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“This just helps confidence-wise,” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “To know that we can compete against high-level teams, go out there and make plays and do the best we can … There’s a lot of great teams out here and we want to be one of them.”