by Terry McCormick
The Tennessee Titans turned in an impressive 30-17 road win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Tennessee improves to 2-3 with the win, and moved to within a game of first place in the AFC South behind Houston.
The Titans offense leaned heavily on the rushing of DeMarco Murray, who had a season-high 121 yards on 27 rushes, and also got a solid performance from quarterback Marcus Mariota, who bounced back from two sub-par games with a strong showing. Mariota completed 20 of 29 passes for just 163 yards, but included in that were three touchdown passes to three different receivers, plus 60 yards on the ground, including a rushing TD.
Tennessee dominated on the other side of the football as well, as the Titans sacked Ryan Tannehill six times behind a makeshift Dolphins offensive line that was missing both left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil due to injuries. Tunsil sustained an ankle injury in pre-game warmups. The Titans took advantage of the Dolphins for much of the day, limiting Miami to 200 yards total offense and just eight first downs.
“I know they have some issues with their offensive line,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “They had some of their guys that were out. We all do and that’s the case when you have to step up and we took advantage of it.”
After the two teams swapped a pair of punts in the first quarter, the Titans offense pieced together a drive, going 61 yards in five plays with Mariota using a bootleg run around the right side to get into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Miami answered in the second quarter, thanks to a breakdown by the Titans special teams for the second week in a row. Last week’s gaffe cost Bobby April his job, but the unit fared not better in Steve Hoffman’s first game at the helm. The Titans allowed Miami’s Jakeem Grant to go 74 yards on a punt return to tie the game.
Undaunted, the Titans answered with a go-ahead drive of 76 yards in 12 plays, chewing nearly seven minutes off the clock before Mariota found Andre Johnson on third-and-goal with a 5-yard TD pass.
The Titans defense, which was solid most of the day, had a breakdown on the next series, as bad angles by Sean Spence and Brice McCain allowed Damien Williams to gain 56 yards and put the Dolphins in position to tie the game. Jay Ajayi did just that on a four-yard touchdown run.
But the Titans offense, which enjoyed its most potent effort of the season drove back down the field in their two-minute drill with Mariota capping that march with a 20-yard TD to Delanie Walker to give the Titans a 21-14 lead at the half. Mariota was 5 of 5 on the drive and also added a 21-yard scramble.
“We practice the two-minute (offense) every week. We’re comfortable in it,” Mariota said. “I thought the receivers did a great job of finding some open holes in the zones and a couple of times just blocking down the field. We took advantage of some things. Delanie (Walker) ran a good route and was able to get up the seam and catch that for a touchdown.”
After the Titans added a 40-yard Ryan Succop field goal, the Dolphins countered with a 24-yard field goal from Andrew Franks, the Titans sealed the game in the fourth quarter when Mariota found former Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews on a diving touchdown catch that pushed the lead to 30-17 with 8:23 to play. The point after was blocked, leaving Tennessee with a 13-point edge.
But that turned out not to matter as the Titans defense kept the pressure on Tannehill.
In all, a trio of Titans – Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo – had two sacks each on the Dolphins quarterback, while defensive backs Jason McCourty and Daimion Stafford both came up with interceptions.
The Titans return home on Sunday to face the winless Cleveland Browns, perhaps with their best chance in quite awhile to win two games in a row for the first time in more than two years.
“It’s one game. We have to win back to back,” Morgan said. “We haven’t done that in a while here. We’re 2-3. We’re below .500. We have a lot of work to do, but this is a step in the right direction. We just have to keep building off of this game and keep growing as a team.”
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