No practice, no problem.
The Tennessee Titans might have succumbed to the coronavirus, but they rose from the ashes Tuesday night to easily vanquish the Buffalo Bills, 42-16, in a game they dominated pretty much start to finish after more than two weeks off due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Tuesday night's convincing victory pushed the Titans to 4-0 on the season and dropped the previously unbeaten Bills to 4-1.
It might have come as a shock to many, but not to the Titans, who stayed prepared throughout the situation, and used criticisms around the league over the Covid outbreak as additional motivation.
“I learned a long time ago that the definition of a pro is they make the hard look easy. Just whatever situation we're presented with, we've got to all come together and make the best decision for this team, each and every time. Our coaches and our players were prepared, and our players responded,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.
The short-handed Titans wasted no time in taking momentum when Malcolm Butler picked off Buffalo's Josh Allen – the first two two Butler interceptions on the night – and returned it to the Bills' 16-yard line. Two plays later, Ryan Tannehill welcomed A.J. Brown back into the Titans offense, hitting him with a 16-yard touchdown pass and a quick 7-0 lead.
After Buffalo answered with a touchdown drive, it was all Titans, as they piled up a season high in points, thanks to forcing three turnovers – two from Butler – and Tannehill threw for three touchdowns.
The Titans were so efficient that they didn't even need a big night from Derrick Henry, who had only 57 yards on 19 carries, though he had two rushing scores.
That the Titans turned in such a performance with a short-handed roster missing nine players due to the Covid-19 outbreak, but also one that had only physically practiced in their facility twice since Saint Thomas Sports Park was shut down on Sept. 29.
“We had the right people in our locker room. The coaching staff did a great job of keeping us prepared, keeping our minds right, keeping our minds good and making sure we were going to play a game. Really just locking in,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We had great Zoom meetings, just making sure that we’re really locking in on the small details. I told you guys earlier in the week that we weren’t going to make any excuses. We went out there and showed out.”
Tannehill was spectacular in leading the offense, completing 21 of 28 passes for 195 yards and three scores. Tannehill also for four times for 42 yards, including a 10-yard scramble for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The quarterback admitted that the talk that the NFL needed to punish the Titans was additional motivation.
“Personal things were said against our team, our guys, and it really felt uncalled for. We were a little ticked off about how we'd been treated and looked at the last couple of weeks, and we just stuck together through that process and believed in each other, and wanted to go out and do what we could do,” Tannehill said.
Butler was the star of the defense, returning his two interceptions for 97 yards total, both going back to the red zone where Tennessee easily cashed in for 14 points.
He, too, said the Titans stayed focused when many thought they would struggle given the circumstances they faced entering the game.
“We expected to win, and we don't need nobody to give us a chance. We gave ourselves a chance,” said Butler.
For the Titans, it is now on to face the Houston Texans on a short week after a dominant effort that almost no one was prepared for – except the Titans players and coaches themselves.
“You don't all of a sudden galvanize when things are bad. That's a testament to these players and what we've tried to build here. You don't say, 'There is a (expletive) storm, we better galvanize.' You stay tight throughout, and then you hope that the fundamentals and your core beliefs and values can take over when things get difficult,” Vrabel said.