For the first time in a while, the Titans defense made a positive contribution as Tennessee jumped to a big lead and claimed a 24-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
The Titans improved to 6-2 overall, and with their offense starting slowly, it was a revamped defense that led the way in the win.
After releasing liabilities Vic Beasley and Johnathan Joseph following last week's loss, and playing without an injured Jadeveon Clowney, a patchwork defense welcomed newcomer Desmond King, who returned a fumble 63 yards for a touchdown and got good work from seldom-used players like Teair Tart, Breon Borders and Derick Roberson en route to the win.
“Everybody that comes to work, whatever roster they're on, whether it's active roster or practice squad, they're expected to be ready to play in the game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “They never know when their opportunity is going to come, and I think the guys are starting to realize that, that practice is critical and so is the preparation, the meetings and watching film.”
Third downs, which had been a problem all season long, were a big key in Sunday's win. The Titans held the Bears to 0-for-8 on third downs in the first half and to just 2 of 15 overall.
And the long lost pass rush, which had seven sacks in six games coming into Sunday, dropped Bears quarterback Nick Foles three times in the game with Jayon Brown and Harold Landry getting one each, and a third sack being shared by DaQuan Jones and Rashaan Evans.
After getting a 40-yard first-quarter Stephen Gostkowski field goal to take a 3-0 lead, the Titans gave themselves a two-score cushion in the second quarter.
Ryan Tannehill, who had been plagued early by some high throws and dropped passes, dropped in a perfectly thrown ball to A.J. Brown, who caught it just past the defender, ran to the end zone and stretched the ball over the goal line as he was being tackled. That put the Titans ahead 10-0 with 4:39 to go in the first half. Tannehill was just 10 of 21 for 158 yards, but had two TD throws.
He credited the defensive effort for spearheading Sunday's victory.
“They were playing fast and playing free. The three-and-outs (they were getting) early in the game were keeping us in it,” Tannehill said. “You could see them swarming and giving up nothing. They kept us in the game the whole game.,
“I'm proud that we got a win. It wasn't pretty. We had too many missed opportunities offensively, but the defense came out and played stout from the jump, and we were able to make enough plays to get the win.”
Both teams were offensively stagnant for a while, but the Titans got points from the defense as Jeffery Simmons forced a fumble, knocking the ball free from the Bears' David Montgomery and newcomer King scooped it up and raced 63 yards for a touchdown that made the score 17-0 and put the Titans in control.
King, who did not meet his Titans teammates until Saturday and only communicated during the week through Zoom meetings, said he wanted to do well for his new team. He said he was excited when the trade was announced on Monday, moving him from the Chargers to the Titans.
"When I heard about the trade, I absolutely loved it. These guys love to play football here at the Titans and that's one thing I definitely respect about it," King said.
The Bears finally got on the board when one-time Titans kicker Cairo Santos hit a 22-yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-3.
The Titans then drove down and put the game away with a 30 yard pass to Jonnu Smith that set up a first-and-goal at the 2. From there, Tannehill went back to Smith to push the lead to 24-3.
Playing more loose in coverage with a big lead, the Titans allowed two touchdowns to the Bears in the final quarter and had to recover and onside kick with 1:04 left to seal the victory.
It sets up a showdown Thursday night with AFC South rival Indianapolis, which lost at home to Baltimore on Sunday to fall to 5-3.