The attrition with the Tennessee Titans on Sunday could have been unsettling.
Instead it was an opportunity for some lesser heralded Titans player to step up and assist in Sunday's 25-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans lost A.J. Brown early on to a hamstring injury. By halftime he was in street clothes on the sideline. Julio Jones was unable to finish the game either, as Coach Mike Vrabel in his own vague way of talking about injuries, said the Titans were basically being careful with the veteran wideout.
No problem, as the Titans got four catches for 53 yards and a touchdown from Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and also got TD receptions from slot receiver Chester Rogers and a fourth-quarter 10-yard touchdown reception from backup running back Jeremy McNichols that essentially put the game away.
McNichols, who spelled Derrick Henry on third downs, caught a Ryan Tannehill pass in the flat and raced to the right side of the end zone for a key fourth-quarter touchdown that helped to seal Sundays win.
Then there was Bud Dupree, who was available only for emergency and probably would not have active at all had Derick Roberson not been dealing with a knee injury. That gave more opportunities again to Ola Adeniyi, a special teamer who has emerged as perhaps the Titans best pass rusher early in the season. Adeniyi had 1.5 sacks (and lost another to a defensive holding penalty), as well as three quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
The Titans also lost emerging cornerback Kristian Fulton for a key series in the fourth quarter, and backup Breon Borders made two consecutive plays in the end zone to help hold the Colts to a field goal.
It added up to a lot of contributions from guys who normally make their mark only on special teams. And it added up to a Titans victory that essentially puts three games between them and the Colts in the AFC South race through three games.
“I don't think any of us guys were drafted, but it doesn't matter where you came from. It matters what you do with the opportunities you get,” said Westbrook-Ikhine, who caught his first career touchdown pass on Sunday.
Westbrook-Ikhine had issues last season with drops as a rookie, but on Sunday – other than losing a fumble – he proved that the moment in the spotlight was not too big for him. He said that the training camp experience he had this summer, especially joint practices against the Bucs were a huge confidence boost for him when he got his chance on Sunday.
“I had a lot of training camp opportunities this year, and I took a lot of first-team reps when we were down in Tampa, and I felt like I did pretty well. So I figured if I can do that against them, I should be able to do it against anybody,” he said.
Coach Mike Vrabel in particular took notice of the contributions of the unheralded players.
“Just some guys that maybe you hadn't heard of and that aren't household names, but guys that we have confidence in. They're on the roster,” Vrabel said. “We have confidence in them that they can go out there and do their job and execute and help us win, and that's going to be from now until certainly the end of this season. As long as we're here, we're going to believe in that because that's what happens. It's a long season. Things come up.
“Things happen. Guys are unavailable. And then all of a sudden they're back in and then they're down. So everybody just has to be ready to go and be able to understand the gameplan and what's going to be asked of them.”
Derrick Henry, who steadied the Titans offense Sunday with 28 carries for 113 yards and a key two-point conversion, was happy to see some of his lesser known teammates share in the spotlight in Sunday's win.
“It was great. That just shows their preparation throughout the week, coming out there and stepping in and making plays when we needed them. All the credit goes to them,” he said.
Add him to the list
Derrick Henry had another highlight play in which he abused the defender on Sunday. Henry didn't employ his trademark stiff arm on Sunday to any of the Colts, but as he gained a head of steam following catching a pass from Ryan Tannehill and going up the left sideline, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard came up and tried to hit Henry only to bounce off and go falling back about two yards.
Asked about the play, Henry downplayed it a bit.
“I caught the ball and got up field and tried to finish forward. That's all that's to it Fortunately, everybody saw it,” Henry said.
The Titans sustained a number of injuries in Sunday's game. Most notable was the fact that A.J. Brown exited in the first half with a hamstring injury and by halftime was in street clothes unable to play.
Rookie linebacker Rashad Weaver left the game with a right leg injury and was carted to the locker room from the sideline after he had to be assisted off the field. The loss of Weaver, plus Bud Dupree being unable to play due to his knee, left the Titans to finish the game with Harold Landry and Ola Adeniyi as their only two healthy outside linebackers. Denico Autry got a few snaps on the edge in certain packages.
Also, receiver Julio Jones did not finish the game as the Titans were apparently being careful with his tender hamstring.
“I think as this thing played out, tried to manage where he's at and understand that what the type of game that we thought the end of the game was going to be. And those guys were going in there trying to dig safeties out,” Vrabel said. “We'll keep looking at those guys, and there's a lot of guys that are going to need some rest this week. A lot of guys. They played a hard, physical game. And hopefully we can be ready to go when we head up to New York.”
No slide for Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill had 56 yards rushing on five attempts (really three plus two kneeldowns), and did it the hard way, not doing any sliding to avoid hits, but instead embracing the contact in order to get the most yards he could on the scrambles.
Tannehill said that couple of his runs came on rollout passes that were covered, which allowed him to take off and run. He did say that he expects to get some grief from Coach Mike Vrabel for not sliding.
“I got some words from Vrabel, and I am sure I will get more tomorrow when we are watching the tape. I try not to take any big hits, try to be smart with it,” Tannehill said. “If I can get on the edge or the shoulder and it is not going to be a big hit, then I am all right with it. Definitely don’t want to take one square. I think that second one he caught me pretty square, and I definitely should have slid that tape. You look at those, and then the last run on the sidelines, trying to just get the first down and stay in bounds there so really didn’t think a slide was a good option there.”