The Tennessee Titans took care of business for the fourth week in a row on Saturday and kept their very real playoff hopes alive.
In facing the Redskins though, the Titans were faced with a bevy of unique challenges.
Far from a pushover
The defense was somewhat depleted by injury, as cornerback Logan Ryan missed his first game since suffering a broken leg, and linebacker Brian Orakpo sat out for his second straight game. Additionally, defensive lineman Jurrell Casey left the game early with an injury.
Offensively, quarterback Marcus Mariota missed the entire second half after suffering what the Titans disclosed as a “stinger.”
Washington also entered the game with its share of misfortunes. Their quarterback, journeyman Josh Johnson, is the fourth signal caller to take a snap for the Redskins in 2018.
Since losing steady veteran QB Alex Smith, the Redskins have not been the same team. Yet, against the Titans, they managed a vastly impressive effort.
“Yeah, that was a pretty solid performance by [Josh] Johnson…” CB Malcolm Butler said after the game. “They did a pretty good job, but we were just a little bit better.”
Despite their many injuries and recent struggles, the Redskins were no pushover at Nissan Stadium on Saturday. They presented multiple tough challenges for the Titans on both sides of the ball.
Future Hall of Fame tailback Adrian Peterson gave the Titans defensive line fits. He looked as good as ever en route to a 119-yard performance that sealed his eighth career 1,000-yard season.
“AP was running like he was in 2006,” said RB Derrick Henry. “He did a great job.”
“They had a terrible game, which everybody does, against New York,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said of the Redskins. “Then they put Josh in there, he led them to two touchdowns. They went on the road to Jacksonville, kept it close, played the game exactly how it needs to be played…They were confident, they were ready to go.”
The Titans, however, seemed to be more confident. Even after being dealt some bad hands, they persevered and earned an unspeakably crucial victory.
It was the first time that the Titans have ever won a game in which Mariota left early due to injury. They were previously 0-6 in those situations.
Backup Blaine Gabbert wasn’t great by any measure, but he got the job done. He made the necessary plays, including the game-winning touchdown toss to tight end MyCole Pruitt, and put the Titans in a position to win.
“It was huge,” Vrabel said of Gabbert’s effort. “That’s why he’s here. That’s his job: to be ready to go, to prepare like a starter and then if his opportunity comes, to make the most of it. I’m really proud of him.”
Perhaps the most important thing which led to the Titans’ victory was their ability to play complementary football. With the injuries and other issues facing the team, they needed contributions from all three phases.
That is indeed what they got. In succession, the offense scored the go-ahead touchdown, the defense notched an interception, the offense ran Washington out of timeouts, Brett Kern nailed a beautiful punt that pinned Washington deep, and the defense notched yet another interception to seal the deal.
“For our team to excel when we’re not, I would say, at our best,” Vrabel said, “you’ve got to have good special teams play, and somebody’s got to make a play. We took care of the football, and we made a huge turnover.”
“That shows you it starts in all three phases,” said safety Kenny Vaccaro. “That punt made it where he [Josh Johnson] had to throw the ball all the way down the field, and he couldn’t do it. We won the game because of Kern if you think about it. There have been crazy plays, like Miami and the Patriots, hook and lateral.”
With one game left, the Titans are right in the thick of the AFC playoff race. If they are able to take care of the Colts, chances are they will be playing a seventeenth game.
Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel