The Titans offense, which sputtered through the first half, came to life and rescued a porous defense, and with the help of Stephen Gostkowski’s sixth field goal of the game, rallied to defeat the Minnesota Vikings, 31-30 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The improbable victory pushes the Titans to 3-0 on the season, heading into a three-game home stretch that starts next Sunday with the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town.
Against Minnesota, the Titans appeared down many times, and even trailed 24-12 midway through the third quarter before rallying with 19 points in a quarter-and a-half to pull out the victory.
“I think that’s all about transferred energy and playing complementary football between each phase,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “These games, there’s no crowd, so we’re cheering for our own team and I think you’re starting to see guys cheering for the other side of the ball and guys doing well on special teams, making kicks, and being excited.
“I know and they know that we have to play better and continue to improve, but they know how to find ways to win right now. That’s a testament to them.”
Sunday’s win came from some of the usual sources, and some improbable ones as well. Derrick Henry rushed for 119 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and Ryan Tannehill shook off a first-half interception to complete 23 of 37 passes for 321 yards on Sunday.
There was also the first career 100-yard receiving day from Kalif Raymond, who had three catches on the day, including a 44-yarder and a 62-yarder, catches that set up 10 Titans points.
Gostkowski, who had missed three field goals and an extra point in the opener at Denver, rebounded by making all six of his kicks with three being beyond 50 yards, including the game-winner from 55 with 1:44 to play.
Truth is, the Titans needed every bit of it to pull out a one-point victory against the winless Vikings, who put up 464 yards of total offense, but came up just short. Tennessee’s defense, which had been battered and bruised all game long, came up big on the final drive, with help of a botched snap, and sealed the win when Amani Hooker intercepted a tipped ball on a desperation heave from Kirk Cousins.
“It’s very encouraging to be a part of a football team that’s not a bunch of frontrunner that start complaining and pointing fingers when things don’t go right, because they don’t, especially in this league and in life,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “To come up here and win a game, we’re excited. We’re gonna get better in all three phases and in our coaching staff.”
There was plenty that went wrong for the Titans, who settled for two Gostkowski field goals in the first quarter, one after Raymond’s 44-yard catch set up a scoring chance, and another after Rashaan Evans’ fumble recovery put the Titans back in position to score.
The Titans lost yet another first-quarter scoring chance when Tannehill’s pass in the end zone for Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was picked off by Vikings safety Harrison Smith. As a result, Minnesota led 7-6 after the first quarter, thanks to Dalvin Cook’s 39-yard TD run.
We didn’t’ make the Plays and they were playing good defense.
“We were moving the ball effectively the whole game, but we were stalling out in the red zone. We’re going to have to correct those things. It’s important to us to score touchdowns when we get down there,” Tannehill said.
The Vikings made it 14-6, capping a drive when Cousins hooked up with Adam Thielen for a score. The teams traded field goals and the Vikings led 17-9 at the half.
Things momentarily looked like they were swinging in the Titans’ favor in the third quarter when Johnathan Joseph intercepted Cousins and scored. But the play was wiped out because of a blindside block on Jadeveon Clowney – a play where Vrabel said it was the right call.
“It starts with me continuing to explain the rules. That’s what the rule is. It was the right call. I have to do a better job of coaching it,” Vrabel said.
With the defensive scored wiped out, the Titans ended up punting.
On the next drive, they salvaged another Gostkowski field goal, this one from 51 yards, to cut the lead to 17-12.
But the Vikings roared back as Cousins found rookie Justin Jefferson, who had a big day with 175 yards on seven catches, for a 71-yard score, and things looked bleak for the Titans, who trailed 24-12 with 8:04 left in the third.
Somehow, the Titans got back into the game, scoring on back-to-back third-quarter drives with Henry finishing off both with 1-yard touchdown runs. That gave Tennessee a 25-24 edge with 1:22 to play.
Of course, the lead would not hold up, as the Vikings quickly took back the lead on Kyle Rudolph’s acrobatic one-hand catch to make it 30-25.
Tennessee then got another Gostkowski field goal to pull within three.
After a rare defensive stop, the Titans got the football back with 3:42 left and drove into range before the drive stalled out at the Vikings’ 37. From there, it was Gostkowski to the rescue again, as he made the eventual game winner.
“It was a tight game, but it really shouldn't have been so tight if we had executed like we should have down in the red zone. But I'm proud of our guys. They kept battling when things weren't going well,” Tannehill said.