Titans Top Falcons

On a day when the offense turned the ball over five times and could only find the end zone once, the Titans used a dominating performance by the defensive line and an interception return for a touchdown to run their record to 3-1 by defeating the Atlanta Falcons, 20-13.
The Titans set the tone for the game early, moving the ball offensively and not yielding a first down to the Falcons offense for the first 24 minutes of the game, yet trailed 10-7. The Falcons got on the board first, after a LenDale White fumbled bounced right to DeAngelo Hall in perfect position for him to romp 56 yards for a touchdown. The Titans tied it up after a 6 play drive capped by a 3 yard touchdown run by Chris Brown. After a VY interception the next Titans possession, the Falcons faked a punt and picked up over 1/4 of their offense for the game, on a 49 yard run by Artose Pinner. The Titans moved the ball enough in the two minute drill to get a field goal to tie the game at 10 right before the half. A VY interception set up the Titans early in the third quarter, but the Titans then tied the game. After another Titan turnover, this one a fumbled punt, the Falcons started another drive in Titans territory. This one, though, ended up in a score for the right team, as Joey Harrington’s pass for Michael Jenkins was too far, and, after a tip, Fuller snagged it and took it 76 yards for a go-ahead score.
The Titans managed to hang on for the rest of the game, but it was sometimes interesting. Falcons long range kicker Michael Koenen misses his second field goal of the game (regular kicker Morten Andersen missed one as well), then Bironas returned the favor, putting a kick from the right hash from 47 yards away wide left. The Falcons tried to get a spark by inserting Byron Leftwich for a marginally effective Joey Harrington, who got the Falcons to the edge of field goal range his first drive. After VY’s third interception of the game, on a poor decision with about four minutes to play, the Falcons started from the Titans 21. Leftwich missed an open Laurent Robinson in the end zone, then made a horrible pass of his own to David Thornton. Thornton had dropped a screen pass earlier in the game, but hangs onto this one. It looked like the game was over, effectively. And it was, except that LenDale White was tripped up on the third down play, forcing a punt. And then there was a breakdown on the punt protection, forcing Hentrich to eat the ball rather than have a punt blocked. The Falcons started inside the red zone. Then, Dunn rips off what one Falcons fan called his best run of the year, and the Falcons had 1st and goal from the one. The Titans’ defense did what it rarely did last year, though, and didn’t let the Falcons in the end zone. Haynesworth blew up the first play, nearly getting to Leftwich and forcing a bad pitch that sent the Falcons back to the 9. An incompletion followed. On third down, Leftwich slightly underthrows the fourth row, but Odom’s costly second offsides of the game gave the Falcons an extra play. This time, Leftwich’s pass for Crumpler is tipped and batted away. Worse, for the Falcons, LT Wayne Gandy was injured. On a day when protection breakdowns were numerous and frequent, this spelled danger for the Falcons on 4th and goal from the 4. And so it was, as rookie free agent LT Foster (a) is beat badly by Kyle Vanden Bosch right off the snap, (b) tackles KVB, drawing a holding penalty, and (c) can’t even tackle KVB effectively, allowing KVB to sack Leftwich and effectively end the game.
The Titans offense only put up 13 points, plus the missed field goal, and had the sort of lackluster offensive numbers you’d expect. VY finished 20 of 33 for 157 yards and 3 interceptions. Moulds had 4 catches to lead the team, while Jones had 3 for 36 yards and the longest reception for 16 yards. The running game was similarly ineffective. White had 12 carries for 32 yards, Brown 10 for 27 and that TD, and VY 8 for 27, including a 20 yard scramble. There was no segment of the offensive game that stood out as being particularly good.
The good news, though, was that as bad as the Titans were, the Falcons were about as bad. Joey Harrington was 16 of 31 for 87 yards and the Fuller interception. He also threw a second interception to Chris Hope, but that was called back because of an offsides penalty on Antwan Odom. Leftwich added 2 of 8 for 28 yards and the Thornton interception. Outside of Pinner’s 49 yard run on fake punt, the Falcons managed only 42 yards on 21 carries, including that 18 yard run by Dunn after the failed punt attempt. Most of the credit for this goes to the defensive line. Outside of Odom’s costly penalties, they had an outstanding game. Haynesworth was frequently hugely disruptive, Odom made some good plays in the earlygoing, KVB was great, LaBoy made a couple plays, Tony Brown brought pressure. I didn’t notice much from Corey Simon or Bryce Fisher, who was active for the first time, but overall it was a dominating performance. Alas, this fine play doesn’t show up too well on the scoreboard, as the Titans only had 2 sacks, 1 by Odom and the one by KVB that ended the game.
On special teams, it was a mix of the good and the bad. Davis had a 28 yard punt return. Griffin had an unnecessary roughness penalty on another punt return, though, and then there was the fumble. Griffin had a return out to the 42, but there were a couple touchbacks. The Falcons missed 3 FGs (part fluky, I know), but Jerious Norwood also had 2 long kickoff returns, 76 down to the 25 and 45 down to the Titans’ 45.
At the end of the day, though, the Titans were able to come away with a win. Winning when you have 5 turnovers is a rare and difficult thing. The Falcons started 6 drives in the second half in Titans territory and only came away with 3 points. This was a game won by the defense, words I didn’t think I’d write about the Titans this year. The record stands at 3-1, and the Titans have plenty to work this week as they look ahead to their third consecutive game against an NFC South foe, this one against the division leading Bucs in Tampa.

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