NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A contest that felt like a true AFC Central grudge match on Sunday had everything a football fan could ask for. Defensive stops, deep plays down the field, trickery, fake punts, near-comebacks and a borderline brawl featured prominently in the Tennessee Titans (5-3) 23-20 win hosting their former division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens (4-5).
Tennessee now sit tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) atop the AFC South. The Titans posses the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jags because of a 37-16 road win in Week 2 of the season.
Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 19-of-28 passes for 218 yards, tossed two touchdowns and an interception as well as contributing three rushes for six yards. The ground game was not nearly as successful (21 rushes for 71 net yards) but not particularly needed. In fact, at the half, rookie corner Adoree’ Jackson led the team with 20 yards on the ground (you read that correctly).
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 5, 2017
The Titans defense stepped up to keep Baltimore under control with a fourth-down stop, two sacks in crucial situations and two interceptions to prolong the team’s winning streak to three-straight.
“Physical game like we thought it was going to be,” Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said following the victory. “Good football team in that other locker room, very good football team. Found a way to win too, when we had to make plays we made some plays, and that’s what good teams do to win.”
The Titans pushed the ball down the field on the first offensive play. Mariota found receiver Rishard Matthews for a 29-yard completion on first-and-10. On a second-and-eight play in the same drive, Adoree’ Jackson lined up in the backfield and sprinted for a 20-yard gain.
Tennessee was stopped short of the end zone, though, after back-up left guard Brian Schwenke, in for regular starter Quinton Spain (turf toe) was blown up in pass protection by linebacker Matthew Judon, who got the third-down sack of Mariota.
The offense settled for a 3-0 lead on a 48-yard Ryan Succop kick.
The Ravens drove 63 yards in 12 plays to set kicker Justin Tucker up from 30 yards out and tie the game at three. On that drive, Baltimore punter Sam Koch converted a fake punt on fourth-and-seven. Koch tossed a 16-yard completion to Chris Moore while Titans cornerback Brice McCain got called for a facemask to set Baltimore up at the Tennessee 13.
Enter second-year safety Kevin Byard.
On a Baltimore first-and-10 late in the first quarter, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco heaved a pass deep to receiver Breshad Perriman. Titans corner and 2017 free-agency addition Logan Ryan tipped the ball up for Byard to come down with his fifth interception of the season.
— Buck Reising (@BuckReising) November 5, 2017
Byard would intercept Flacco a second time at the start of the second half. In his sophomore season with Tennessee after being drafted out local Middle Tennessee State, Byard leads the NFL with six picks and has seven total takeaways on the year.
Mariota then took to the ground on first-and-ten from the Baltimore 46-yard line after the turnover, shaking off former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs and hurdling corner Brandon Carr for a seven-yard gain. The next play was a 23-yard sideline catch by rookie receiver Corey Davis, who returned to action Sunday for the first time since Week 2 against the Jags after dealing with an ailing hamstring.
From the Ravens 16-yard line, Mariota displaced the opposing linebackers with play-action and launched a dart at a streaking Matthews in the middle of the end zone for a score.
Mariota excelled on play-action passes throughout the day. The third-year pro completed 8-of-8 passes for 109 yards and the touchdown to Matthews and, according to ESPN Stats & Info, tied Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins for the most such attempts without an incompletion by any signal-caller this season. Additionally, Mariota went 4-of-4 for 83 yards and the score in the first quarter on throws 15+ yards downfield, making him the first at his position with four such completions in a first quarter during the 2017-18 campaign (ESPN Stats & Info).
The Ravens responded with a 13-play, 44-yard drive that ate 6:08 off the clock in the second quarter but pressure from the Titans forced a Flacco incompletion on third-and-eight. Tucker’s 49-yard kick was good to bring the score within four points at 10-6.
Two possessions later and Tennessee had first-and-goal from the Baltimore five-yard line. Running back Derrick Henry punched one in on a third-and-one run off-left tackle to bring the score to 16-6 with 2:24 remaining in the half after Succop missed the PAT wide right.
Both teams were held scoreless in the the third quarter; the Titans looked particularly inept, converting not a single third down in three tries and producing only 16 net yards of offense to the Ravens 92. On their second possession of the final period, Flacco found running back Buck Allen for a three-yard strike to pull Baltimore within a field goal of Tennessee at 16-13.
— Buck Reising (@BuckReising) November 5, 2017
A Mariota intercetion on a poorly thrown pass in the direction of Matthews was stolen out of the air by safety Eric Weddle and allowed the Ravens to begin their drive at the Titans 42.
Mariota and the offense roared back after the mistake, spurred on by Walker’s 25-yard snag in a second-and-10 from the Titans 40. A drive that would go 75 yards in nine plays was capitalized by wide receiver Eric Decker’s 11-yard catch for six on a play where Mariota’s protection broke down. The young quarterback was forced to roll back out to his left after initially scrambling right, extending the play and allowing Decker to create enough separation to haul in his fist touchdown as a Titan.
“If he’s throws a pick, he’s going to come back and throw balls,” Coach Mularkey said of the Heisman-winner out of Oregon. “He’s not flustered. He doesn’t let things like that affect him, that’s one thing about him. It never has. He’s always responded to a pick with positive plays afterwards.”
Flacco’s unit would bring the final result to 23-20 in favor of the Titans on a one-yard pass to Mike Wallace with only 51 seconds to play. A failed onside kick and two Tennessee kneel-downs would bring an end to the contest.
Up Next: The Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) travel to Nashville next Sunday to square off against the Titans