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Notebook: Big Plays Sway Momentum

Posted Dec 30, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Zach Brown and Darius Reynaud took turns taking it the other way.

Brown returned interceptions of 79 and 30 yards for touchdowns, and Reynaud returned punts 69 and 81 yards for scores as the Tennessee Titans became the first team in NFL history to have two players score twice on return TDs in one game.

The Titans scored 28 points in four minutes, 45 seconds of game time without taking an offensive snap. The big scoring plays swayed momentum in Tennessee’s favor, and the Titans defeated the Jaguars 38-20 in the season finale for both teams.

“That is what happens when you start making plays, it is contagious,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “You make one, you have another and another. Just like when you don’t make, it seems like how this game started. We were going to miss out on opportunities, like here we go again. We missed this one, this, and this one. We didn’t let that get us down and took advantage of the opportunities that came before halftime and never looked back.”

Tennessee finished its second season under Mike Munchak with a 6-10 record, and Jacksonville concluded its first season under Mike Mularkey at 2-14.

The Jaguars appeared on track to add to a 14-7 lead in the final two minutes of the first half, but Brown followed the eyes of Jags QB Chad Henne and stepped in front of a pass intended for Marcedes Lewis. His footwork after that raced past Jaguars offensive players, including Henne, for his first career touchdown with 1:48 remaining.

“It feels good and it was something that as a defensive player you want to do,” Brown said. “So for me, it’s just a cool thing that happened for me, so I can just check that off my list and next year I’ve got to get another one.”

Tennessee quickly forced a punt by Jacksonville with 48 seconds remaining, and Reynaud accelerated as he caught the ball. He zoomed to his right and picked up multiple blocks in front of the Jaguars’ bench. He hoisted the ball in celebration by the time he reached the Jacksonville 25-yard line.

The Titans forced another punt on the Jaguars’ first possession of the second half, and Reynaud made his next return more dramatic. He began going to his right, but slipped. Reynaud got back to his feet in a flash and zoomed to his left. He balanced himself to stay in bounds and sprinted to the goal line.

“I saw all those guys on the right side. It was a right return,” Reynaud said. “So when I planted and I slipped, I turned back around and I saw all my blockers to the left side. They made good blocks and I just finished after that ... When I saw Coty (Sensabaugh) make that last block, my eyes just got big. I thank those guys for blocking.  It’s not just one guy on a return, so I thank all those 10 guys for blocking.”

Munchak said the second return by Reynaud was “a good athlete making a great play.”

“In a lot of games, obviously, he is going to be tackled right there or lose his balance and be pushed down, but he was able to reverse field,” Munchak said. “When you do that there is a chance something good will happen. Sometimes you will lose a lot of yards when you do that, but this is one of the times where he found a wall and then guys rallied around him and had some nice blocks down the sideline and he walked the tight rope and made a huge play for us.”

Reynaud finished with a franchise-record 160 punt return yards and became the first player in franchise history and 14th in NFL history to return two punts for touchdowns in one game.

Brown, the rookie linebacker who was drafted in the second round of the draft, found himself in the right place at the right time on the next defensive series when Tommie Campbell tipped a short pass intended for Toney Clemons. It landed in Brown’s hands, and he cruised 30 yards for his second score and a 35-14 lead with 12:03 left in the third quarter.  

Sunday also marked the fifth time in franchise history to have three return touchdowns, matching a total earlier this season against Detroit. 

OFFENSE SCORES ON OPENING DRIVE: Tennessee’s offense opened crisply, efficiently moving the ball 79 yards in seven plays and 3:26. The Titans received the opening kickoff after Jacksonville won the coin toss and deferred.

Chris Johnson started the game with a 5-yard run and ended the possession with a 2-yard touchdown.

In between, Jake Locker connected with Nate Washington for 21 yards on third-and-5 from the Tennessee 26-yard-line and followed with a 42-yard pass to Lavelle Hawkins to the Jacksonville 11-yard line one play later.

Johnson rushed for nine yards, no gain and the short touchdown on third down by winning a footrace to the right edge. He finished with 56 yards on 21 carries and with 1,243 rushing yards this season (third best in his five-year career).

Locker finished 9-for-15 with 152 yards, but did not commit a turnover and finished with a passer rating of 94.3.

SACK FRENZY: Titans defenders recorded seven sacks of Henne, equaling the season-high seven they recorded the first time against the Jaguars.

Derrick Morgan led the way with two total sacks and three of Tennessee’s 13 quarterback hits. Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey, Brown and Kamerion Wimbley each finished with one total sack, and Sen’Derrick Marks and Karl Klug each recorded half-sacks.

It was the most sacks in a game for Morgan, who finished his third season with a career-best and team-high 6.5 in the category. Wimbley and Ayers each finished the six each.

The Titans increased their sack totals from 28 last year to 39 this year.

GIVE HIM FIVE: Rookie fullback Collin Mooney received five carries late in the game and gained 19 yards in his first five opportunities this season. Mooney spent most of the season on the Titans’ practice squad after joining the team as an undrafted free agent after his college career at Army and fulfilling his military commitment. Mooney was elevated to the active roster Friday due to ankle injuries to Johnson and Jamie Harper.  

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