Whether it’s making a key defensive stop or producing a critical touchdown drive, the Titans have learned how to win – something every good team must do.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Criticize the Titans if you so choose.Pick at their offensive shortcomings over the last few weeks. Wonder aloud why they can’t separate themselves further from opponents. Grumble about winning ugly.
There’s certainly room for improvement.
But answer this question: Isn’t it better at this point to be asking questions about a first-place team, as opposed to asking about who might be the team’s next first-round pick?The Titans may not be filling the SportsCenter vaults with offensive highlights, but what they did in Sunday’s 23-20 victory over Baltimore is what they’ve done on a number of occasions this season: They’re doing what it takes to win.
“There’s no asterisk – there’s no, `Hey, it wasn’t pretty,’” Titans left tackle Taylor Lewansaid. “A `W’ is a `W.’ An `L’ is an `L.’ As long as you’re getting more `W’s’ than `L’s,’ that’s all that maters.”
So halfway through the season, the Titans now stand at 5-3, their best record at the midpoint since the 2010 team posted the same mark.
They’ve won three straight games and are tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South, a division that is even more open for the taking than usual, due to the absences of Houston’s Deshaun Watson and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck.
Are the Titans still a work in progress?Absolutely. This is a team that should be more productive and explosive on a consistent basis, considering what the Titans themselves showed us in rolling up a combined 70 points in early-season wins over Jacksonville and Seattle.
But there’s something to be said for a team that finds ways to overcome its shortcomings, as the Titans did in beating the Ravens.
A couple of examples:
• When the Titans needed a defensive stop, they got one. The Ravens seemed to be slowly changing the game’s momentum as the fourth quarter began. Baltimore still trailed 16-6, but faced a fourth-and-one at the Titans’ 17-yard line. That’s when veteran Wesley Woodyard stuffed Javorius Allen for no gain, turning the ball back over to the Titans.
“That was huge – a big-time play with Wesley coming up in the middle, closing the gap and everyone else finishing it off,” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “It was another possession to let the offense try to get some points on the board.”
• When the Titans desperately needed an offensive drive, they got one. Ahead 16-13 with less than nine minutes left in the game – and having failed to produce a second-half score at that point – the Titans took over on their own 25. Nine plays, 75 yards and nearly five minutes later, Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass to Eric Decker that would prove to be the winning score.“When that drive (started), we got in the huddle and said, `Look the defense is playing great. We’ve got to match that. We’ve got to answer that by putting points on the board,’” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “Then we drive all the way down and put some points on the board. That’s all you can ask for, especially when we weren’t moving on all cylinders.”
What very likely goes hand-in-hand with finding ways to win is coming out on top in close contests.
The Titans have made a practice of doing just that under Mike Mularkey as full-time coach, going 6-0 over the past two seasons in games decided by three points or less. In the three years prior to that, the Titans were a combined 3-10 in games decided by three points or less. That was a continual source of frustration for players and fans.
“We haven’t done that in the past, win those close games,” Orakpo said. “We were always, `What if?’ You have those moral victories where you were close with a good team, but you fell short. Now we’re actually finishing out these games, and it’s impressive and we’re proud of this team so far.”It stands to reason that the more a team wins close games, the more confident it feels about itself in tight situations going forward.
The next time the Titans are battling down to the wire against an opponent, they’ll have wins like this against Baltimore – and, yes, even the overtime victory against Cleveland – to fall back upon.
“You’re not going to win games by 20 points every week,” Mariota said “When you can pull these tough ones out, especially against a good team like Baltimore, it builds confidence. It builds momentum. It builds what’s going to be needed in December.”
So gripe if need be about the Titans winning ugly, but remember that the in the end, the “winning” counts for much more than the “ugly.”
— Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him @glennonsports.