Titans struggle past Jets for much-needed victory

It wasn’t always pretty or exciting, but at LP Field Sunday afternoon, the Titans did what they needed to to come away with a 10-6 victory over the New York Jets. The key factors were two costly interceptions by Jets QB Chad Pennington, plus some kicking woes for Jets PK Mike Nugent.
The Titans opened the scoring on the day on a 4 yard TD run by Chris Brown two plays into the 2nd quarter. This drive started at the Jets 40 after Pennington’s first INT of the day, this one a nice snag by Reynaldo Hill of a pass intended for Jerrico Cotchery. The key play on the drive was a 29 yard pass by Gage down to the 7 to convert 3&6. The game then nearly got away from the Titans, though, as the Jets almost immediately scored a TD after going 6 plays in 75 yards, the key play a 48 yard completion to Cotchery down to the 11. Nugent’s XP was blocked by Antwan Odom, though, and the Titans still lead, albeit by the lesser margin of 7-6. The Titans were looking for another big play in the passing game on their next drive, and tried the same play VY used on the TD pass to Roydell against Kansas City the previous week. Unsurprisingly, this time the opposing team was ready for it, and David Barrett fairly easily intercepted VY’s pass. The Jets converted a 3&1 and a 3&4 with big pass plays, though the drive stalled out in the red zone. Nugent converted a 36 yard FG for the lead, but Tony Brown was called for Leverage, and Mangini elected to take the points off the board and play for more. Mistake.
The Jets’ first TD came on 2&8 from the 9. Pennington narrowly avoided a leaping David Thornton and hit Cotchery in the back of the end zone. This time, on 3&G from the 9, the Titans were looking for the same sort of play, and got it. Bulluck, playing the same LB zone Thornton was playing on the other side the previous play, sagged back further, and when Pennington tried to hit Smith in the back of the end zone, Keith was there to snag the ball away. It’s not huge, and seems obvious, but, as Pennington noted in the post-game press conference, it was a great adjustment, and may have been the decisive play in the game.
At this point, though, the first half wasn’t even over, and the Jets got another chance to score. After a couple good pass plays on the ensuing drive, VY got caught in the pocket being a little casual with where he held the football, and the Jets started in Titan territory. Fortunately, they couldn’t do much, and Nugent, who’d never missed in December as a pro until two weeks before, badly missed on a 51 yarder. The Titans pumped their lead to 4 on their first possession of the second half, thanks in part to the Jets completely ignoring Ben Hartsock to the tune of 27 yards. The Jets twice got to the edges of scoring territory, but never made it inside the Titan 30 the rest of the game, and the Titans ran out the clock for the win.
The running game? White had 23 carries for 103 yards, the fewest carries he’s had yet in a 100-yard game. See, I said something nice about him. Now I can tell you about his terrible blitz pickup-in the first quarter, the Titans faced 3&8 from the Jets 34. VY was in the shotgun, with White next to him. The Jets showed blitz in the box, but dropped off those guys and brought a DB from outside LT. White moves forward, into the Bell-Roos gap, and prepares to block a guy who isn’t even rushing. Meanwhile, the DB (Rhodes, I think, but not sure) is bearing down on VY, completely unblocked. VY has to scramble and throw the ball away, and the Titans punted the ball away. Oh, other rushers? Brown had 5 for 15, including the TD, and Hall had a nice 6 yard carry. The running game ate clock today, and in a key manner on the last drive, but this wasn’t the first JAX game where it drove the offense.
Yeah, that passing game had a few key plays, but that was most of the good stuff. VY was 12 of 22 for 166 yards and the INT. Roydell lead the team with 4 grabs for 54 yards, Gage had 3 for 48, Hartsock 1 for 27, Hall 2 for 3, and Moulds and Scaife a catch for a dozen each. It wasn’t consistent success, but the intermittent success was enough to be a key factor in putting points on the board.
With only intermittent offensive success, the performance of the defense was the key. And, again, the heart of the defense was the pass rush. KVB had a monster game, registering 3 sacks and 11 total tackles. Odom had a hugely impressive sack on which he literally pancaked the Jets RT. Tony Brown had a sack of his own, on the Jets’ last 4th down gasp, and LaBoy had one as well where he forced a fumble that, alas, was recovered by the Jets. The secondary had the normal big plays against, one of them against pressure (Vickerson ain’t a great cover guy, shockingly enough), but managed to limit the bleeding enough. Shocking, what with Reynaldo Hill playing, then Kelly Herndon getting his first real work of the year after Hill was shaken up, but true enough. Thomas Jones had a thrilling 21 carries for 58 yards.
I’ve already noted Mike Nugent’s foibles in the kicking game today. Also on special teams, my biggest concern was Jets’ returner Leon Washington against the Titans’ frequently shaken coverage unit. Fortunately, my fears didn’t prove particularly well-founded, as Washington managed 3 KOR returns for a 22 yard average, none longer than 26, and a single punt return for 15 yards. Chris Henry was back, and while he didn’t get a carry (or maybe even play) at RB, he had 1 KOR for 23 yards. Chris Davis returned punts, and didn’t manage to fumble one while returning one for 6 yards. Nugent had better kickoff distance than Bironas, but Rob made his XP and also hit from 46. Good enough.
And that’s all I have to say. The bottom line is the Titans came away with a much-needed win, and can go into Indy Week 17 with a chance for the playoffs with a win. Stay tuned to Total Titans for your normal round of game previews and whatnot.

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