Well, that didn’t quite go the way I was expecting it would.
Just as they did in their 2003 win in Carolina, the Tennesee Titans got off to a fast start thanks in part to a turnover and put a stranglehold on the Panthers the rest of the way to turn in a dominating win where they ended up with 30 points. The scoring started early, as after a Panthers three-and-out, Marc Mariani found a lane down the left sideline and romped 79 yards for his first punt record touchdown of the season.
The Panthers looked like they might answer the Titans’ score, but Will Witherspoon forced Greg Olsen to fumble inside the Titans’ 10 and Matt Hasselbeck went to work. Jared Cook, 18 yards and a first down. Chris Johnson on a flare pattern, 29 yards and another first down. An incomplete to Cook, but then on thrd-and-eight, Damian Williams avoids two Carolina defenders who try to tackle him short of the sticks and goes 43 yards to give the Titans a 14-0 lead. Will Witherspoon sacked Cam Newton the first play of the next series, and the Titans turned good field position near midfield into a Rob Bironas field goal for a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Titans wouldn’t score again for more than a quarter, but it didn’t matter because Carolina struggled to move the ball. The Panthers went three-and-out on their next three possessions, missed a field goal at the end of the first half, failed on a surprise onside kick to start the second half, and would only get on board on a field goal after some Hasselbeck-Avery miscommunication resulted in an interception that let the Panthers start a drive in the red zone.
The nominal big story of this game will probably be Chris Johnson’s “breakout” performance, as he had 27 carries for 130 yards and the final touchdown, plus 4 catches for 44 yards. To me, though, he looked the same as he has: a lot of ineffective rushes, but when he sees green grass and a defender who won’t inevitably tackle him, he can be productive. Kudos instead from me to Damian Williams, who had two 40-plus-yard catches as part of his first career 100-yard game (5 for 107, TD).
For me, the real story of the game was the Panthers abandoning the run and the Titans’ defense against Newton. The Panthers ended up with 51 or 52 pass plays and only 12 or 13 rushes. Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart averaged more than 4 yards a carry, but they weren’t a factor in the offense. Instead, the Panthers threw the ball, and Newton was hurried, sacked, and knocked down, and failed to find receivers when he wasn’t being harassed. The pass rush was really a team effort, as no player had more than one sack or one quarterback hit. Guys who merit mention include Jason Jones, William Hayes, Sen’Derrick Marks, and DC Jerry Gray, who called the line stunts and twisted the Panthers couldn’t handle and the blitzes that resulted in Witherspoon, Akeem Ayers, and Cortland Finnegan getting pressure.
I don’t know that this win means anything in the grand scheme of things, as the Texans have the division pretty much in a stranglehold and the Titans have a steep hill to climb for a wild card berth, but a big win certainly beats a big loss in my book.