By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – November 5, 2018)
Improbable after that first quarter. but somehow the Tennessee Titans picked themselves up off the Dallas turf and decided their season wasn’t over just yet. In one of the franchise’s most complete performances in years, Marcus Mariota and the offense sizzled, the defense (sans one) did its job, and Mike Vrabel now sits at 4-4 with his old buddy, Bill Belichick, and his old teammate, Tom Brady, waiting to hop a flight to Nashville this Sunday.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the Titans 28-14 win on Monday Night Football over America’s Team.
Marcus Mariota played one of his best games as a professional under the bright lights on national television against the Cowboys. Yes, there were two fumbles and an extremely shaky start, but then it looked more like Mozart than…well…than a lesser musician. The Maestro proved the nickname correct on this night.
Eight isn’t just his number, it’s also the number of Mariota incompletions on the night, of which only one was particularly egregious. 21-29 passing for 240 yards and 2 TDs, which should have been three. Mariota completely missed another red zone score, throwing high and behind a wide open Corey Davis in the fourth quarter that led to a rare Ryan Succop missed chip shot field goal.
Marcus ran for 32 yards, including the game icing touchdown, where Dallas defenders didn’t appear to have any interest in the evening’s festivities and didn’t even attempt to make a play on him. He was awfully good for three of four quarters and adds to a respectable day in London two Sundays ago to be trending (maybe) in the right direction.
The Titans scored all but one time, the lone Mariota passing miscue discussed above, when they entered the red zone in the game. 4-5, all touchdowns, against a good defense. This was a team that entered Dallas on Monday night having scored just 31 total points in the past three games combined. It was a team that hadn’t scored a first half touchdown since Week 2 against the Houston Texans.
Maybe it’s the Texas teams?
This was Matt LaFleur’s best night to date as the rookie offensive coordinator for the club, as he mixed things up and, after some calculations went awry early, he also adjusted and opened things up for the offense. Corey Davis finally returned as a focus, receiving six balls from Mariota on ten targets and would have had a touchdown had Mariota not overthrown him in the fourth quarter.
Dion Lewis was effective, Derrick Henry scored a physical touchdown, but it was 19-6 in respective carries. 22 simply isn’t getting many opportunities right now in comparison to 33, and Lewis appears to be the more valuable player, not to mention the back the staff trusts.
Oh, and Jonnu freaking Smith scored a TD and made a few plays in the game also! What sorcery was this?
That’s the number of third downs the Titans converted on Monday night…
…out of 14 tries.
Tennessee was 20th in the league at around a 38% clip before Monday’s performance, where they finished 78.5%. You’re going to win a lot of football games when you keep your offense on the field and extend drives. Time of possession was 34:26 to 25:34, much of it due to this one statistical category and the lack of incompletions and clock stoppages.
The conversions weren’t all gimmes, not by any means, but Tennessee found its way into four 3rd and 1 situations and originally a 3rd and 4 as well. These are better than all those double digits we saw agains the Ravens. Here’s how each charted out: 3rd and 7, failed on 9, 9, 4 (false start made it 9 and Mariota to Davis got 17), 1, 1, 7, 10, failed on 9 as Mariota was sacked, 1, 8, failed on 9 on the Davis overthrow in the end zone, 6, 1.
That’ll get it done. Especially when Dallas is as bad as Dallas was.
This is the biggest number of the entire game, and all credit belongs to the Dallas Cowboys for it. The first quarter for the Titans was an absolute horror movie that would have been perfect for a game played last Wednesday night. Two fumbles that was nearly three had the Luke Stocker play not been ruled an incompletion on review, and Dallas with multiple short fields.
Yet, Maher missed a 38 yard field goal on the opening drive. Three points left on the board there. After the first Titans fumble did lead to a Dallas touchdown, the second Mariota fumble should have led to another one, as Dak, Zeke, and the offense got to the four yard line and had a 1st and Goal situation.
Loss of 2 for Elliott, and then Dak Prescott reminded us just how much he’s regressed since that immaculate 2016 rookie season. He threw a terrible pass, only surpassed in its “badness” by the decision to throw it in the first place, intended and forced to Amari Cooper that was picked off by Kevin Byard. At worst, three points left on the board…maybe seven.
What should have at least been a 13-0 Dallas lead, perhaps a 17-0 Dallas lead, remained 7-0, and then became 7-7 as the Titans went on a 15 play, 80 yard drive that took 8:55 off the clock and culminated in a second quarter score for Derrick Henry.
Dallas lost this game right then and there, because they had a chance to win it had they executed. Some credit goes to the Titans defense, sans Malcolm Butler…speaking of which…
Per ESPN Stats and Info, Malcolm Butler has been the nearest defender in coverage on six opposing touchdowns this season, second worst in the NFL behind only Marcus Peters, who was one of the goats yesterday in the Rams loss to the Saints as he was abused by Michael Thomas.
Once again, for yet another week, 21 was abysmal downfield and gave up another TD, this one to Allen Hurns down the left side. It could have been a momentum killer as it came at the end of a first half that had just seen Tennessee overcome an atrocious start and tie the game, then take the lead at 14-7.
Butler hasn’t just been a bad signing, he’s been a Titanic-level disaster for the Titans. LeShaun Sims MUST be rotated in as one of the top three corners going forward. Malcolm Butler, for all the kind things his teammates and coaches have said about him, looks to be done. He’s a liability and a constant hand-over-face emoji every time a quarterback picks on him. If you watch the Hurns TD, Prescott never looks away from his target, knowing he wanted to challenge Butler.
I’m stunned Dallas didn’t go after him more than they did. That’s on Jason Garrett and the coaching staff. Jerry Jones should have cut bait years ago, but it feels impossible to believe he won’t after this debacle (and that Washington mess).
4-4 just “feels” better than 3-5, especially with the New England Patriots on their way to town in six days. That’s not a game anyone will expect the Titans to win, but because they got the road win against Dallas, there are still possibilities for this team as it relates to the postseason.
But the biggest thing is the Music City now will have a little more energy this week. Had the Titans lost on MNF, it’s 3-5, looking straight at 3-6, and the season would essentially be over. 9-7 might not even be enough to get in as the six seed. There’s really only one spot up for grabs if Houston keeps doing its thing…but the Titans are undefeated in division and that could be their ticket, along with beating up on the woeful NFC East.
Los Angeles will almost assuredly be the five seed, but the six is anybody’s guess. The Baltimore loss hurts, because the Ravens may be in that mix. The Texans have won six in a row, but one of their losses came at the hands of Mike Vrabel and the Titans, so things get a bit more interesting. Once the Patriots head back to Massachusetts on Sunday night, Tennessee’s schedule eases up.
A loss to Dallas was curtains. Now…well, we have to stay tuned now don’t we.
THE LAST WORD
This was the season. It was a must win. And the start was all-time bad. But the next three quarters saw the best of the Tennessee Titans at this stage, including a solid performance from the quarterback, the top wide receiver, the most versatile weapon on the offense (Lewis), and a defense that got after Dak Prescott and made Scott Linehan’s offense look as if it were stuck in the mud.
This game may have gotten Jason Garrett fired. That’s how bad Dallas looked, and yes much of that is on the Cowboys, but a lot of it is on the Titans showing up and punching them in the mouth. Surviving that car crash that was the first 15 minutes, answering the bell, and winning the fight was something special to watch.
This was a game of hope and a game that could be something to build upon. Keep in mind, New England loves to show up against teams feeling good about themselves and obliterate them. They are very “Alabama” in that way. It may be a tough Sunday, but then…there’s not another game on the schedule that I would classify as unwinnable. There’s no Rams, no Saints, no Steelers, no Chiefs, no Vikings…it’s a bunch of broken, flawed, mediocre to bad teams.
It’s impossible to overstate how big this victory was. Lose and it’s over. Win and…hmmm.