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deeluxx3

Complimenting Complementary Football

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With 10:58 left in the 4th quarter and trailing 21-14, Dak Prescott trotted onto the field following a missed chip shot by Ryan Succop, preceded by an off-target pass by Marcus Mariota to Corey Davis, who was open in the end zone for an easy touchdown. The situation was clear and one experienced many times before: the Titans offense failed to produce a knockout punch and put pressure on the defense to hold onto a lead.

As a fan, I was not filled with much optimism. A Cowboys comeback victory would have fit in well with the other chapters of Titans’ losses this season, with this one perhaps being the most frustrating. The Titans offense had seemingly woken up, building upon a strong second half against the Chargers and scoring three touchdowns on three visits against Dallas prior to Mariota’s missed pass and Succop’s shank. Leaving the door open against the hometown Dallas Cowboys…on Monday Night Football…with essentially both teams’ seasons on the line…is just a very “Titans” thing to do.

Dak and his teammates quickly found themselves in a 3rd-and-12 on their 18 yard line for what was, in hindsight, the most important play of the game. A conversion would keep the chains moving, while anything less would put the ball – and the game – back in the Titans’ control.

Out of the shotgun, Dak dropped back and I held my breath. While Prescott scanned the field for an open receiver, Titans rookie OLB Harold Landry went to work. Pushing away his blocker and then splitting between two more, Landry swarmed Prescott and took him down for his second sack of the season. I exhaled.

The defense had done its job – as it really has for all season – and got the ball back in Mariota’s hands. Mariota, who was sublime under the bright Monday night lights, didn’t flinch at his second chance to put the game out of reach. After marching the Titans back down the field thanks to some help from the equally-great Dion Lewis, Mariota scampered into the end-zone from 9 yards out to seal the game.

Finally, the Titans played complementary football. Finally. Finally, after nine long weeks, the Titans new offense and defense clicked, picking the other up when they were down and repaying the favor when necessary. After a shaky start to the game, which saw the Titans fumble away their first two possessions, Matt LeFleur’s play-calling left the Cowboys unbalanced while the offense’s execution was the best it has been all season. Dean Pees’s defense, led by Kevin Byard who registered his best game of the season (if not his career), was relentless and got better as the game went on. Perhaps it was the extra week of preparation leading up to the game, but Titans fans should feel like they finally received the sandwich they thought they ordered back in January when this coaching staff was formed. Even if we were probably a bit impatient when waiting for it to get made. To that impatience, which I am not innocent of, I remind my fellow Titan fans that good things truly take time.

Almost everything went “right” for the Titans on Monday night once they shook off their bye-week rust. Young offensive players like Cameron Batson, Darius Jennings and Jonnu Smith earned their paychecks for the first time all season, while linebackers Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans get better every week. The offense went 11-for-14 on 3rd Down and Mariota did his most significant damage from the pocket.

It was hot. It was sexy. It was exciting.

But now the fun starts. At 4-4 and the division still in reach, the Titans will need to use this game as a launch point for consistent, complementary football moving forward. I’m realistic about our chances at home against New England on Sunday, but pivotal divisional matches – one being another Monday night visit to Texas to take on the division leading Houston Texans – are on the horizon. The division title is still very well in reach, but the Titans will have to avoid another Eagles-esque hangover if they want to become AFC South champions once again.

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