The Titans came out and put together a masterful performance against Cam Newton and what came into this game as a top five ranked offense was totally obliterated by a nasty Tennessee defense. The Titans harassed and buried Newton to the tune of five sacks and one interception as Tennessee overpowered Carolina 30-3. The Titans caught an early break early as return man Mac Mariani broke for a 79-yard TD return. Mariani’s burst seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game as the Titans poured it on from there. They would score on their next drive as Matt Hasselbeck found Damian Williams on a short pass that Williams would turn into a 43-yard TD as he shed a couple of tacklers in his way. Williams finished with 107 yards receiving and really stepped up this game and showed that he is a guy Hasselbeck will be able to rely on in the Titans Kenny Brit less offense. The Titans players all should have gave Carolina TE Greg Olson a high five after the game as he made two disastrous plays in the first half. He would first fumble in the red zone killing a potential scoring drive for the Panthers. Later in the first the former Miami FL standout would drop a 16-yard pass from Newton that would have likely put Carolina in field goal range but instead it kept kicker Olindo Mare out his comfort zone as he would miss a 50-yard attempt.
Maybe the most promising sign to come out this victory was the Titans run game coming to life as Chris Johnson finally had a breakthrough. Johnson had 27 carries for 130 yards and 1 TD. He made some of the explosive cuts and jukes that made him the most exciting player in the league over the last couple of seasons. The Titans offensive line looked sharp as well as their seemed to be bigger running lanes for Johnson to take advantage of. Hasselbeck would finish with 15 of 27 for 219 yards with 1 TD and 1 Int. But it was Johnson who took it to the Panthers in the second half and finished off Carolina. The defense deserves a lot of praise as well. They were aggressive in their approach as they kept a spy on the uber athletic Newton to keep him at bay and took away his big play ability. The Titans secondary did a good job making sure Newton had no targets available even when he scrambled to keep the play alive. Newton being held to 212 yards passing is something of a novelty this year after the way he shredded a few defenses this year. Damian Williams appears to be on the cusp of becoming Matt Hasselbeck’s go to receiver as their chemistry can easily be seen during the game.
The win keeps the Titans in the early playoff hunt at 5-4 and should give them a much needed momentum boost. They needed to come out and make a statement after last week’s disappointing loss to another rookie QB Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Titans came and dominated a decent opponent even if Carolina’s 2-7 record may not indicate it. It was good to see Chris Johnson finally rediscover his game again. He looked like the guy that the Titans invested $54 million dollars in. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray stuck to his guns and trusted his guys as he unleashed an unrelenting attack that kept the Panthers offensive off balanced. The Titans travel to Atlanta next to take on an upset bunch in the Falcons. Mike Smith’s 4th and inches decision in overtime ultimately backfired as the Falcons RB Michael Turner was stopped on the play. The New Orleans Saints would march down the field and John Kasay would cap off the victory with a 26-yard field goal. This makes for an interesting matchup next week in the Georgia Dome.
Player of the game: Chris Johnson – As I stated above Johnson was up to his old tricks of the past few seasons. His season high of 130 yards comes at a time when the offense really needed him. He did get a few garbage time big gainers in the 4th, but it shouldn’t diminish what he and the much maligned Titans offensive line were able to accomplish. Hopefully this is just the beginning of things to come as Johnson seems to finally have his legs and the offensive line finally played with a nasty streak that made them such a great running team in the Jeff Fisher era. Is this a revelation for the Titans running attack or is it an upward trend for them? That is something to keep an eye on in the next few upcoming games.
Game changing moment: Marc Mariani’s 79-yard punt return – Special teams plays are always great a great prescription for uncle Mo, as Mariani’s explosion was the quintessential l definition of a game breaker for Tennessee. It was the first time all year that Mariani took one to the house. The Titans saw how good he could be last year but of course with the pushback of the kickoff in effect this year, his production had been limited. This should give him and the special teams a much needed confidence boost.