There is a beauty to winning ugly. No style points. No matter.
I'm not sure exactly what is going on with the Titans, but it's fairly incredible and baffling, and something special might be brewing there. Tennessee has played just four games this season, but each of them has been strange in its own right, and Sunday's miraculous overtime comeback win over the defending Super Bowl champs was one of the more odds-defying games we will ever see.
Every week it is something else with this scrappy bunch, who continue to find themselves in quirky, compelling games, even if they leave a lot to be desired in terms of aesthetically-pleasing offensive football. We are just getting to October and already the Titans have played a crazy, storm-filled game in Miami with multiple long weather delays during which they lost their quarterback but still made it a game. Then in Week 2 they did the unthinkable and won with Blaine Gabbert, no less, thanks in large part to a successful fake punt for a long touchdown against the Texans. In Week 3 Marcus Mariota was forced back to action when Gabbert got hurt, and though he could barely grip the ball properly, much less throw it down field, they suffocated the Jaguars to win anyway.
The one they will remember in Nashville most of all came Sunday. The Titans managed a wild and downright ridiculous comeback on the Eagles, during which Mariota went 12 for 12 for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to force overtime and then the Titans while trailing by three went on to win as the final seconds of OT ticked down. Again, somebody in that locker room is living right.
This was bonkers, and it's the kind of thing an upstart, young team can build on for quite some time. It's the kind of thing that gives rookie head coach Mike Vrabel immediate cache in his locker room, with the Titans looking something like the NFL's early team of destiny.
On the final drive alone they converted a fourth-and-15 (for 19 yards) to get to midfield. They converted fourth-and-4, by virtue of a pass interference call. They picked up 17 yards on a third-and-19 and then, of course, picked up the fourth-and-2, picking up another 17 yards on a Dion Lewis scamper off a short pass. And then on third-and-10 from the 10 Corey Davis went up to collect a pass from Mariota in the end zone, and bedlam ensued. These guys look like a tough out, and a team that I figure will be quite viable in the AFC South.
The offensive line is getting healthier. Mariota played the best game of his career. And the real reason this team has managed to go 3-1 to start the season is the menacing nature of this defense. They have been stout and tough, and they hit Carson Wentz at least 10 times by my count and knocked him to the ground repeatedly. This defense proving quite tough to score on.
They have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season, and they have yielded just six offensive touchdowns through four games. The Titans are making life miserable for quarterbacks. It still may run a little hot-and-cold on offense, but it's hard to see this time just wilting and fading given the good vibes going on.
Bucs become Winston's team again
We're about to find out who Jameis Winston is. And who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are, for that matter. A club many of us thought might flirt with a top-five pick has come plummeting back to earth after a torrid start. FitzMagic has run its course, and the Buccaneers mustered one of the less inspiring performances in quite some time on Sunday.
And now Winston will have to rally them out of the bye coming off this 48-10 debacle. If Winston can be the leader of this team, someone worthy of a $25 million a year deal who can stay out of trouble and be a guy you can truly count on, the next three months will tell that tale. It's going to have to start in Week 6.
Winston looked jittery and off when entering this blowout at halftime. He ran around the pocket in a manic, hyper manner at times. He throws balls high and wide. He ended the day with a fairly brutal interception at a time when the Bears were just playing their backups and eager to get into the locker room.
Winston could afford a stinker here, with the game already over when he entered and having been away for nearly a month from his suspension. But now, having seen what this offense can look like at its best when Ryan Fitzpatrick was unstoppable for the better part of three weeks, the stakes are even higher for the returning starter. Can he finally clock with DeSean Jackson? Can he spread the ball around? Can he play at a consistent level?
If he doesn't, all those preseason narratives about this being a franchise with major jobs on the line will come roaring right back. And if he does, that massive contract might still be out there for him, whether in Tampa or someplace else.
More Week 4 notes
- The Falcons are in deep trouble. With three straight home games following their Week 1 loss to the Eagles, they had to win at least two of them. And after yet another full and complete defensive collapse, this time to the Bengals, this is a team that may be hard-pressed to get in to the playoff race in a year in which they host the Super Bowl. Atlanta has given up 104 points in the last three games and simply can't get a stop when it needs one as injuries moun. Bengals roamed free all game, and that was without Joe Mixon on the field.
- Smart of the Patriots to go with a ball-control approach against the Dolphins. They made a point to establish rookie running back Sony Michel early and often and took a physical approach with Miami after sputtering on offense most of the season. They neutralized Cam Wake and Robert Quinn off the edge. Make no mistake, this was a statement blowout wi,n and the return of Julian Edelman from suspension is no small factor, either.
- The Eagles had difficulty moving the ball on the ground much of the day, and pass protection was a big issue. I have to think a few more weeks like this and visions of Le'Veon Bell keep dancing through their heads. That offense could use another dimension. Nelson Agholor keeps dropping passes, and Jay Ajayi's back is something that will have to be monitored.
- Josh Allen is going to have a lot of games like Sunday at Lambeau given the state of that offensive line there. That was difficult to watch.
- Why have the Seahawks not fired their kicker yet?.
- Nice two-minute drive by Dak Prescott to lead a comeback win, but if Dallas has to rely on Zeke Elliott as its featured receiver and runner, it's going to be a long season.
- Why was Aaron Rodgers still in the game in garbage time of a blowout win still hobbling around on one leg?
- It worked in his favor, and the Texans finally won a game, but Bill O'Brien's decision to play for the tie late in overtime is the kind of thing that could have damned his entire program. All's well that ends well, I suppose, but give me Frank Reich going for fourth-and-2 with Andrew Luck from his own 43 over kicking on fourth-and-10 from inside the red zone with an 0-3 team. That tie isn't going to get anyone into the playoffs. Lucky for O'Brien he got the win anyway.