Tennessee Titans we've long expected have arrived, and they mean business | Estes
Prior to Sunday afternoon’s fireworks, Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard gathered defensive teammates on the field. “We’re not here to prove nobody wrong,” he told them. “We’re here to prove ourselves right today.”
As far as pregame pep talks go, this from Byard was a bit of a thinker.
In the context of his team, though, it made perfect sense. The Titans really are specialists at proving everyone wrong. They do it often, as recently as Monday night against the Buffalo Bills.
But what puzzles you about the Titans — and has for some time — has been their inability to take such a stirring victory and sustain it. Beating the Bills made a statement, but following it up by beating the two-time AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs six days later would make a larger one.
It would validate the Titans — widely written off as a pretender after a couple of early losses — as a legit contender. Just as they believed they were all along.
Even they, however, couldn’t have expected the extent of what happened Sunday.
A 27-3 whipping of the Chiefs at Nissan Stadium was one of those rare NFL afternoons in which everything seemed to go right — for two quarters, at least — while everything for the opponent went wrong.
"Since I've been here," Byard said, "the most complete win that we've had start to finish."
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The lead was 27-0 at halftime — and it could have been more. The Chiefs couldn’t do much of anything, and that included stopping the Titans, who scored on all five possessions before halftime while the Chiefs punted twice, threw an interception and lost a fumble.
The Chiefs’ defense was overmatched. Their offensive line couldn’t block the Titans’ defensive front. This was a rout, stunningly so.
I can’t claim to know what happened to the Chiefs.
I do know what happened to the Titans, though.
They got their best players healthy.
That’s the difference between the Titans who lost to the New York Jets and the ones who jumped all over the Chiefs. Many of the big plays in Sunday’s first quarter came from Titans players – A.J. Brown, Bud Dupree, Julio Jones – who weren’t active against the Jets.
The lesson is it takes only a few untimely injuries to the wrong players to turn one of the best teams in a conference into one of the worst.
If you’ve been in Nashville, you’ve probably noticed the “TENNESSEE TOUGH” billboards the Titans put up before the season. The two billboards feature five players each, and of those 10 Titans stars who were profiled, six have missed at least one game already this season because of injury: Brown, Jones, Dupree, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, linebacker Jayon Brown and punter Brett Kern.
(Henry, Byard, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and quarterback Ryan Tannehill were the four billboard Titans who’ve stayed healthy, for those curious)
It’s not as if the Titans’ injuries stopped Sunday. Basically, their entire offensive line is banged up, though you couldn’t tell because the Chiefs’ defense was a mess.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing had been grilled this past week about game scripts after having to punt on the opening possession in five of the Titans’ first six games.
But in Week 7, he had a full assortment of healthy skill players. And here’s who touched the ball other than Tannehill on the opening drive Sunday: Brown, Jones and Henry (a whole lot) until his TD toss to tight end MyCole Pruitt.
Downing’s script put the ball in the hands of his best players. It helped that each was on the field.
Meanwhile, the Titans’ secondary was ailing and turned to defensive backs like Greg Mabin and Matthias Farley on Sunday against Patrick Mahomes and company.
On paper, it should have been a mismatch, but it wasn't because the Chiefs couldn’t protect their quarterback. The Titans had four sacks, and it felt like more. Mahomes wasn't able to finish the game.
Last year, the Titans’ pass rush wasn’t good enough to exploit a suspect O-line. This season’s pass rush does that. Big difference, and of course, it helped that Dupree was on the field. He had his first sack for the Titans and forced a Mahomes fumble.
Byard forced a Mahomes fumble, too.
Kern, back from injury, even booted his first punt out of bounds at the Chiefs’ 3-yard line.
Just one of those days for a Titans team that genuinely expected to be among the AFC’s best this season.
"We feel like we can beat any team in this league," Byard said. "No disrespect to media, the world, anybody around, we're not trying to prove anybody wrong. We're trying to prove ourselves right, because we know who we are in this building. We know what we've got. ...
"We want to dominate. That's the kind of mentality and the standard that we need to have. We put it on tape, so now we've got to prove it every single week."
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.