I hit some of the high points in my quick recap immediately after the game, but now that we're about eight hours later and I've started to decompress a bit from the experience of the game itself, it's time to cover a bit more than those high points.
I've been very critical of the Titans' belief in the run game and their attempt to tell themselves they can run the ball, both in what I've written this season and what I wrote in the offseason about how ineffective their run-oriented formations and plays were. They came out throwing this game, with passes on their first five plays, and mostly kept it up. For the game, they had 42 Locker attempts and 15 handoffs to a back (14 of those to CJ, the other to Reynaud) despite leading for most of the game and never trailing by more than 7 points. It wasn't the zero rushes I asked for, but I can live with five handoffs in the first half.
Of course, if the Titans' offense wasn't much more efficient, Locker wouldn't have had the chance to throw the ball that many times. Jake Locker was virtually night-and-day different from the first two weeks in getting the ball out quickly and in a rhythm, and the passing game worked. He was far from perfect, appearing to misfire on a couple bubble screens that should be automatic, but overall finished a very good 29 for 42 for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Only five of Locker's passes are listed in the Gamebook as "deep" throws, which typically means 16 or more yards downfield. The rhythm passing game meant a very good Lions defensive line didn't record a single sack and was only credited with one quarterback hit.
Those two touchdowns were both similar in that they were a mix of good plays and some luck. The first was a 61-yarder to Jared Cook, who was wide open down the seam and shrugged off a couple would-be tacklers and rumbled the rest of the way for a score. I thought Locker's throw here was a bit high and he benefited from Cook being the target. The other TD was a 71-yard catch and run to Washington; Nate really bailed out Locker on this play, I thought, reaching over corner Jacob Lacey's back to pluck the ball and then leaving a seemingly-befuddled Lacey behind as he ran to the end zone. If Lacey has better ball skills, I really think this could be an interception and we'd be hearing a lot more gnashing of teeth.
Beyond the big plays, one thing that was disappointing was the Titans' lack of execution as they got close to the goal line. They crossed midfield six times and only came away with nine points. Locker fumbled a snap on the first drive, plus Rob Bironas uncharacteristically missed two field goals. The misses were from 41 and 48 yards, neither automatic except that Bironas has been so incredibly (and rarely) reliable it's uncharacteristic. Both misses were from the left hash and went just a little bit left, so I'm not worried about a bigger problem. It's just weird to have to remind myself that even very good kickers sometimes have down seasons.
In additon to the 61-yard TD, Jared Cook had three other receptions on as many targets for a total of 77 yards before leaving the game around halftime with a shoulder injury. Early signs are the injury does not seem to be serious and he should be available to play next week. With his injury, Craig Stevens got more playing time and targets in the pass game, finishing with five catches for 63 yards, plus another 24 yard catch that appeared to be wrongly taken away from him on replay in overtime.
At wide receiver, Washington had two other catches and ended up with 112 yards total. Kenny Britt played a lot and ended up with 11 targets, six of them catches for 55 yards. There was one pass he probably should have caught but did not, but overall looked more like the Kenny Britt we're used to seeing. He hurt his ankle late in regulation, though, and missed the overtime possession. Kendall Wright was also targeted 11 times and had seven catches for only 41 yards, plus a costly fumble in the fourth quarter. Damian Williams played in overtime after Britt's injury and had 2 catches for 20 yards, one of them a key third-down conversion.
Defensively… here's the good:
(a) Alterraun Verner stole the ball away from Brandon Pettigrew and returned it for a touchdown.
(b) Akeem Ayers had a big sack on third down in the fourth quarter.
(c) Verner tackled Stefan Logan short of the sticks on a third-and-7 in the second quarter.
(d) They stuffed Mikel Leshoure on a third-and-2 in the second quarter.
(e) They stopped Shaun Hill on the sneak that wasn't supposed to happen at the end of the game.
(f) No key defensive players suffered any major injuries, though backup end Kenyunta Dawson did miss most of the game with a hamstring injury.
(a) Pretty much everything else.
Mikel Leshoure was playing in his first NFL game and looked pretty good, consistently finding creases in the Titans' defensive front the Lions and Kevin Smith weren't able to find in their first two games. This may have been the first time in Matt Stafford's era the Lions had a consistently productive ground game.
Stafford mostly dink-and-dunked, but found acres of space in the second half. He ended up completing 33 of 42 passes (79%), albeit for only 278 yards and one touchdown. Shaun Hill completed 10 of 13 passes (77%) for 172 yards and two scores, including the 46-yard Hail Mary that sent the game to overtime in the first place. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew dropped a couple passes, as I noted he did against the Rams, and ended up with only 61 yards and no scores. Calvin Johnson after a quiet first half unsurprisingly did the most damage, finishing with 10 catches for 164 yards and the touchdown that cut the lead to 41-34.
I noted Calvin Johnson did most of his damage in the second half for a reason: the Titans' second half defense has been pretty abysmal this year. It started off okay in Week 1, as the Patriots punted in their first two possessions. They went on to score 13 points, two field goals and a touchdown, on their last three second half possessions. The Chargers of course scored touchdowns on three of their four second half possessions. The Titans took a 20-9 lead into halftime of this game. After three Lions offensive possessions, the Titans were down 27-20. Verner and Ayers' big plays stopped them on their next two possessions, but then they scored two more TDs and made it inside the 10 in overtime. Whatever Jerry Gray is doing at halftime, it's not working.
Special teams gaveth and taketh for the Titans today. I've already noted Rob Bironas' two missed field goals. Tommie Campbell of course had the Titans' first touchdown of the day on a throwback on a punt return. Darius Reynaud had a 105-yard kickoff return for a score that included Taylor Thompson annihilating a Lions defender on the edge and a Tommie Campbell block that took out both kicker Jason Hanson and another player. Then, when the Titans needed to recover an onside kick to end the game, a funky bounce and a Damian Williams miss gave the Lions the Hail Mary shot they converted to force overtime. I'm really not sure whether I should be happy or have decidedly mixed feelings about what the Titans did on special teams today.
I suppose it's also incumbent for me to say something about Chris Johnson's performance this week. His final numbers were an improvement but still pretty lousy, 14 carries for 24 yards plus only one reception for 5 yards. As I noted in the quick recap, he had three or four carries where he looked like a good NFL back, including three double-digit gains. He also had a number of carries where he got tackled for a loss, including two 8-yard losses in overtime. Overall, I have him at 5 successful runs on 14 plays, or 36%. That's not nearly good enough. I'm just hoping he doesn't get many carries going forward.
Other thoughts? On the whole, this was how the Titans had to win. They got just enough big plays, including a couple in the passing game, to overcome what was really a shoddy defensive performance. There are some things to be really happy about going forward, and some things to be really concerned about. The whole package, though, was one of the craziest, most exhilarting wins you'll find.