JOE BIDDLE: Titans hold on

(Courtesy: Daishawn Hayes)

How sweet it was.

No matter what the circumstances are, it’s not easy to win games in the NFL. Each week presents a myriad of hurdles to conquer.

The Titans are learning just how difficult it is. They had to hold on for dear life in the fourth quarter against the still winless Cleveland Browns.

The Titans improved to 3-3 with a 28-26 decision Sunday at Nissan Stadium. It was their first home game win and also the first wins back-to-back.

“We saw some things obviously we need to clean up. We have a lot of work to do,’’ Titans Coach Mike Mularkey said after the game. “We’re on the right track.’’

Mularkey likes how his team is finally following the formula the coaches feed them. They take what they hear and learn in meeting rooms to the practice field. They bundle all of it up and take it to the games.

They now have an opportunity to make a dent in the AFC South. Every  win counts.

In close games such as the one Sunday, the Titans learned they can ill afford to take their foot off the opponents’ air hose. They understand on any Sunday, they have to put their best effort and production forward.

They would not have beaten the Browns if the defense didn’t plant quarterback Cody Kessler six times on the Nissan Stadium grass. Kessler and wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. came close to beating the Titans on their own.

Kessler targeted Pryor 13 times and connected on nine passes, good for 75 yards and two touchdowns.

But Titans second year quarterback Marcus Mariota countered with arguably his best game of the young season.

Yes, Mariota threw one pass that was captured by a Brown. It’s part of the learning process. Overall Mariota completed 17 of 24 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns. He ran seven times for 64 yards, a 9.1 yard per carry average. His longest trip was for 48 yards.

He finished with an impressive 132.6 quarterback rating.

“It’s important to be able to be multi-dimensional, being able to do different things to allow us to run the football and to pass,’’ Mariota said. “What we were able to accomplish last week helped us in terms of the passing game this week.’’

Mularkey saw his team convert seven of 13 third down chances, while the defense held the Browns to only three of 14 third down plays.

The numbers showed that for this game at least, this team is getting better, going through growing pains and bouncing back from losses.

They will be successful if the beat the teams they are equal or better than and upset teams that are favored over them.

It’s obvious the AFC South is there for the taking. That’s why next Sunday’s home game against the Colts is another chance to show the Titans belong. It will be followed by a quick turnaround Thursday night game against Jacksonville, a team trying to escape the AFC South basement.

To prove every week in the NFL springs another mystery, all it takes is to look at how the Titans beat the Miami Dolphins in Miami, 30-17, last week. The 1-4 Dolphins beat the stuffing out of a 4-1 Steelers team, 30-15, a week later.

A key figure in the win over the Browns was Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright. He has been sidelined with injury, but returned Sunday to catch eight Mariota passes for 133 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown pass.

Wright has been watching this team coming together.

“We got a lot more games and I like where this team is headed,’’ he said. “I really think we are headed in the right direction. We got to keep pushing, keep working.’’

That’s the formula.

Joe Biddle is a sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at