NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Well, someone had to win, right?
The Tennessee Titans traveled to the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday and escaped with a 12-9 overtime victory that saw neither team score a touchdown.
Truly inspired football.
“It was a good win on the road – a very good win on the road,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said in his postgame media availibility. “It was not pretty, but I like the way our guys, especially defensively, kept fighting all the way until the end. That’s the one thing about this team – I’ll say ‘resilient’ is a pretty good description of them. I knew it was going to be that kind of game. Obviously we have a lot of work to do, especially in the red zone. You can ask questions about it – we have a lot of work to do there. We’ll work on that. We’ll study this bye week, but it’s a good win on the road for this team.”
On a day when the offensive production was nowhere to be found, Tennessee relied heavily on a strong effort from kicker Ryan Succop and an interception hat trick from second-year safety Kevin Byard to preserve Cleveland’s (0-7) losing streak. With 1:55 remaining in the overtime period, Succop drilled a field goal (his fourth of the day) from 47 yards out to put the Titans over .500 at 4-3 heading into their bye week.
By virtue of their divisional tie-breaker over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Titans now sit at first place in the AFC South.
Limited in his mobility due to a nagging hamstring injury for a second-consecutive game, Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 203 yards threw the air while completing 21-of-34 passes. Mariota was unable to guide his unit to a single touchdown drive on the day and managing only nine points in regulation.
Cleveland committed 12 turnovers in the loss and also lost their 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Joe Thomas, who went down with what appeared to be an elbow injury. It ended a streak of 10,363 consecutive snaps played in his career.
Just 2.0% of all active NFL players played every snap in 2016. Joe Thomas played every Cleveland offensive snap for 10 years and 6 games.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) October 23, 2017
The defensive effort was led by Byard, intercepting three passes from Cleveland quarterbacks (rookie starter DeShone Kizer threw two and was benched later in the game for backup Cody Kessler, who also threw a pick). According to Jason Wolf of The Tennessean, Byard became the first Titan with three interceptions in a game since Keith Bulluck in a Monday night game at New Orleans on Sept. 24, 2007.
“It was unbelievable, Byard told the media in the locker room after the victory. “I mean I’m not going to sit here and say I came here to the game expecting to get three picks. I definitely wanted to come into the game and make the best impact that I can on this team. We tried to get a win here in Cleveland. It was a big win going into the bye week so that was big for us.”
With 30 seconds to play in the first half, Byard notched his first takeaway of the day by picking off Kizer at the Titans’ 7-yard line to help maintain their 6-3 advantage. Byard then proceeded to end the Browns first drive of the third quarter with his second interception and made a key stop at his team’s 8-yard line with six minutes remaining in the game.
The offense did not convert one of those turnovers into points.
Tennessee started the scoring at 3-0 with a 43-yard field goal by Succop. The Browns tied the game on Zane Gonsalez’s 3-point try from 31 yards out before the Titans would answer with a 14-play, 70-yard drive that to give Succop a chance at the 23-yard mark.
Playing a relatively clean game, Titans players were flagged only once for a loss of five yards and went into the half leading 6-3.
After Byard’s interception to snuff out Cleveland’s second-half drive, Kizer was replaced by Kessler and brought his team 70 yards down the field and tied the game at six.
Succop got his final kick in regulation up from 46 yards to pull ahead 9-6 before Byard ended another Browns offensive effort with his third turnover of the game. But the Browns got the ball back in short order and with enough time for Gonzalez to hoist one up from 54 yards out and send it to the extra period.
“Yeah. I would have liked to see the 53 [-yard kick] go through too; maybe it would have saved a little bit there at the end,” Mularkey said of Succop’s lone miss on the day. “I’ve seen him hit those consistently in practice, and so there’s a big trust factor there. That would have helped us not have to go through what we did there at the end, but he came through when it counted. That was big.”
The Titans head into the bye week with the intention of getting healthy. Offensive mainstay, tight end Delanie Walker suffered an ankle sprain against the Browns and was seen later on crutches.
Up Next: Tennessee is off this week and then hosts the Baltimore Ravens November 5th at Nissan Stadium.