Optimism was soaring last year when the Tennessee Titans thumped Tampa Bay, 42-14, to win their season opener. The Titans followed that by losing six straight.
Two years ago, the Titans were ready to take the NFL by storm after claiming a 26-10 win over Kansas City in their season opener at Arrowhead Stadium. The Titans promptly lost their next four on the way to a 2-14 record.
For a team that had won its previous three season openers, and never finished better than 7-9 during that span, perhaps the Titans season-opening loss to Minnesota on Sunday can be seen as welcome change.
“Last year was last year,” said Titans RB DeMarco Murray when asked if he sees the team’s problems persisting. “That’s not going to happen this year.”
One of the most encouraging signs against Minnesota is the Titans held Vikings star RB Adrian Peterson to 31 yards on 19 carries, a 1.6-yard average. They also didn’t allow Minnesota to score an offensive TD.
On the flip side, the Titans defense didn’t have a sack or produce a turnover. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense had three turnovers, including two returned for TDs.
Said Titans coach Mike Mularkey, “I don’t know if you’re ever not going to lose a game doing that.”
Looking ahead, the Titans travel to Detroit this Sunday to face a Lions team that won its opener, a 39-35 shootout against Indianapolis. The Lions didn’t commit a turnover and only surrendered one sack.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford passed for 340 yards and three TDs, part of five offensive TDs for Detroit. The high-flying offense of the Lions is a stark contrast to Minnesota, which looks to win behind stout defense and running the football.
The Titans secondary has been vulnerable to the big play in recent years, part of the reason they let longtime safety Michael Griffin leave in the offseason after nine years with the team. He’s been replaced by Rashad Johnson.
When asked about facing Stafford, often described as a gun slinger, Johnson told titansonline.com, “He’s a great quarterback with a strong arm. I guess I would say his biggest weakness is his confidence in his arm because he’ll try and force some balls in there he probably shouldn’t throw, and that sometimes causes interceptions. It’s huge for us to make sure we get turnovers and get interceptions. This week, I think Stafford is going to throw it probably anywhere from 35 to 50 attempts in the passing game. So there should be plenty of opportunities for us.”
Stafford threw the ball 39 times last week against the Colts with eight incompletions.
Against the Vikings, the Titans defense got its hands on two passes from Vikings QB Shaun Hill but failed to make the interception both times.
Offensively, the Titans got a spark from rookie WR Tajae Sharpe, who had seven catches for 76 yards. Sharpe played in all but three of the team’s 67 offensive plays.
The RB combination of Murray and rookie Derrick Henry showed promise in the opener. They only combined for 45 yards rushing, but they added 76 yards receiving, including two TDs by Murray.
“I really don’t feel like they did anything to stop us,” said Titans TE Delanie Walker after Tennessee gained more first downs, finished with more total yards, and won the time of possession battle against Minnesota.