After a bye week, the Titans returned with a spark, knowing that the first game was the Ravens, a longtime nemesis for the Tennessee franchise.
They took the lead early and never let go. The Ravens never caught them, mostly because the Titans’ physical defensive play kept them at bay.
“We knew it would be a physical game, two evenly matched teams,’’ said Titans coach Mike Mularkey after he saw them beat the Ravens, 23-20.
It improved the Titans record to 5-3 and should should give them confidence that they can play head to head with teams that sometimes find a way to beat the Titans.
“We learned how to close it out,’’ Mularkey said. “That’s what good teams do.’’
The Titans returned some players that had been sidelined with injuries, which was another key according to Mularkey.
“This was the half-way point. This was an important win,’’ he said.
The Ravens won the second half, 14-7 after a scoreless third quarter for both teams.
On defense, a key stop on the first play of the fourth quarter when the Titans prevented the Ravens from converting a fourth and one from the Titans 17 yard line was a game changer.
Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard wrapped up Ravens running back Javorius Allen for no gain. It was close as Baltimore challenged the spot, as it was short of the yardage needed for a first down.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh thought he was a victim of two spots that would have been first downs.
“We were like fourth and inches on both of those,’’ Harbaugh said after the game. “I think like fourth and an inch is probably one you want to go for. I thought we got them both. In my mind, clearly, we got them both.’’
Woodyard led the Titans in tackles with nine and five assists. Another defensive standout was Kevin Byard, who had four tackles, an interception and broke up three pass attempts. The MTSU safety was everywhere, or so it seemed.
“He’s making plays,’’ Mularkey said. “Kevin has been all over the place making plays.’’
This game proved the Titans can play hard-nosed football. They took a 16-6 halftime lead on Derrick Henry’s one-yard touchdown run. Taking and keeping leads has been problematic.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota showed that the bye week helped him get to close to 100 percent after fighting a hamstring injury.
He was 19 of 28 for two touchdowns and 218 yards. He had a quarterback rating of 100.0 compared to the Ravens QB Joe Flacco who completed 34 of 52 passes for two touchdowns. Flacco had two interceptions, Mariota had only one interception, that coming in the fourth quarter.
The Titans host the Bengals next Sunday before going on the road to Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
It’s still there for the taking for the Titans. It’s up to them to keep playing like they played the Ravens and cutting down mistakes.
“I think we can play a whole lot better, especially myself,’’ Mariota said. “I can convert third downs, find rhythmn, stop turning the ball over, we can be really good. We’ll find a way to improve and just get ready for the next one.’’
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at email@example.com.