Historic Titans' Win Now Better Than Draft Position Later

They seemed to have it under control. They handed it away. They grabbed it back. 

Monday night’s thrilling win at Hard Rock Stadium over the Dolphins was the memorable sort that could have long-term importance for Will Levis, Tyjae Spears and other pieces the Titans will be built around going forward. It helps Mike Vrabel as he attempts to maintain a culture with a locker room thin on talent. And frankly, it was fun to watch an electric 4 minutes and 34 seconds in which the Titans drove to two scores and 15 points while holding Miami twice and offsetting a great deal of bad football – earlier in the game, and earlier in the season.

Per TruMedia, Tennessee is the only team this century to overcome a deficit of 14 points or more in the final three minutes of a game and win in regulation.

Dec 11, 2023; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Tennessee Titans cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (0) breaks up a pass to Miami Dolphins wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. (11) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Murphy-Bunting breaks up a pass for Cedric Wilson Jr./ © Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

So take all your anticipation of exactly which pick the Titans will have in 135 days, and the idea a higher pick guarantees a more successful player, and shelve it. If you can’t enjoy an exhilarating win by your team engineered by its rookie quarterback as he topped 300 yards for the first time, and if it doesn’t make you happy two days after a member of the team’s Ring of Honor, Frank Wycheck, passed away way too early at 52, you need to recalibrate.

“This is a big confidence booster for us for sure,” Will Levis told the media in Miami after he hit on nine of 12 passes for 132 yards, a TD and a 2-point conversion on the Titans’ final two possessions.

The Titans averaged only 2.9 yards a carry, so Levis relied heavily on DeAndre Hopkins (seven catches for 124 yards and the score) and Spears (six catches for 89).

BryMak“I saw a dog, that kid is going to be great, man,” Hopkins told NFL Network of Levis. “…Will showed heart. I love competing and playing with him.”

For a good while, Tennessee had a handle on the game flow. 

With Tyreek Hill sidelined for a long stretch by an ankle injury, the Titans held down the explosive Dolphins, who couldn’t find the sort of big pass connections they thrive on.

The Titans were up 10-7 at the half, with Miami’s only points resulting from the worst decision Levis has made in his seven starts, a short pass over the middle he forced for Spears that was picked by Zach Sieler and returned for a 6-yard TD. 

The Titans were ahead 13-10 going into the fourth quarter when, a week after they were undone by special teams and fired Craig Aukerman, punt returner Eric Garror chose to field a punt after a bounce and lost it, giving the Dolphins a recovery at the Tennessee 7. Mike Vrabel called the play by Garror reckless. 

Raheem Mostert then scored in two plays and the Dolphins prepared for another gift, as Levis pitched high and hot to Derrick Henry who couldn’t corral it and watched Bradley Chubb gather it at the 12. Mostert wound up with another TD.

With 4:34 left, Miami was up 27-13 and it looked like the Titans had blown it.

“We did a lot of things that were going to cost us, obviously, the turnovers, the mistake,” Vrabel said. “But we did more positive things late. The defense kept giving us a chance, we got some stops. Then the offense needed to come through, they came through.

“It doesn’t have to be that hard but I’m proud of the character of this football team competing and then having to go in a different direction real quick and then coming back, getting stops late and being able to move the football late in the game. I was really proud of these guys.”

Missing the injured Jeffery Simmons, the defense held Miami to four-for-14 on third and fourth downs and allowed TDs just twice on five Dolphins’ possessions in the red zone, plus Denico Autry blocked a field goal. Amani Hooker stood out and Harold Landry had three of five Titans' sacks.

“They won us that game, they shut down a really potent offense,” Levis said. “If it wasn’t for those couple turnovers there in the red zone, it would have been even more impressive. So props to them. Then we were able to get the job done with our operational efficiency on those two 2-minute drives. So I’m just pumped all around.”

Vrabel talked about all the work left to do to stay on an improvement track. The Titans are 5-8 with four left, including a home and home against Houston, starting with a Sunday visit from the Texans.

The coach was excited to be able to watch players improve, be happy and share in success. It was a win that recalled his, and his team’s, best.

Kuharsky megaphone“There’s a lot of guys out there that people aren’t real familiar with,” he said in a reminder of what the team has been up against. “That’s the facts of it. But they’ll fight, they’ll compete. And that’s why I love them.”

What’s in store for the remainder of the season? It would be hard to top the overtime loss to Indianapolis and the win at Miami in the last two games.

“Last week was a crazy loss,” Arden Key said of the Titans getting consecutive punts blocked and missing an extra point with their backup holder in place. “So this week was a crazy win. It’s been a crazy year this year.”

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