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Notebook: Blocked Punt for TD Sparks Titans

Posted Oct 30, 2011

Tennessee's Patrick Bailey (right) reaches out to block Pat McAfee's punt in the second quarter.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Patrick Bailey envisioned making it to “the spot.”

Bailey sprung through the middle of the Colts’ line, advancing to where he thought the ball would be as punter Pat McAfee struck the ball. The reserve linebacker didn’t see what happened immediately after he blocked the punt. He heard the crowd and then spotted teammate Jason McCourty celebrating the resulting recovery of the ball in the end zone.

“I felt the laces hit my arm, and I went off to the side,” Bailey said. “By the time I turned around I saw J-Mac holding the ball up with his hands. It was just a great feeling.”

The blocked punt recovered by McCourty helped Tennessee seize momentum in a 27-10 win against Indianapolis Sunday at LP Field. The Titans (4-3) snapped a two-game losing skid this season and halted a five-game losing streak against the Colts (0-8) that began in December 2008.

“We got excited. A blocked punt is one of the key factors in winning any game,” Bailey said. “Everybody got excited, everybody was happy and it kind of steam-rolled after that.”

Bailey said the Titans’ weekly preparations involve scouting punter tendencies and the best way to get to a punter.

“You know where the spot is, and you visualize getting there,” Bailey said. “We worked on it the practice, bouncing off the snapper and going straight up. I’m glad it worked in the game.”

Sunday’s block was the second in three games for the Titans, but the first time that McAfee had suffered a punt block in his three-year career. The ball bounced off the turf in the end zone and smoothly up to McCourty.

“You can appreciate those (types of bounces),” McCourty said. “We had a nice punt block design that Coach (Alan) Lowry drew up. Bailey was able to come free and get his hand on the ball. Week-in and week-out Bailey continues to make a lot of plays on special teams.”

McCourty also had his hands in on another key play of the first half. The third-year cornerback tipped a pass intended for Colts’ leading receiver Pierre Garcon, and Titans safety Michael Griffin swooped in to catch the deflection with less than two minutes remaining. Tennessee’s offense responded to the turnover with a 65-year touchdown drive.

“I just wanted to try to stop (Garcon) from catching it,” McCourty said. “I just tried to get my hand in between, and I knew Griff’ was going to be over the top.”

McCourty’s defensive assignment was containing Garcon, who entered the game with 30 catches for 503 yards (16.8 per catch) and four touchdowns. Colts quarterback Curtis Painter targeted Garcon 15 times Sunday, but McCourty and the Titans limited Garcon to seven catches for 66 yards (9.4 per catch) and kept him out of the end zone.

“He’s a great wide receiver,” McCourty said. “I know going against him last year, he gave me a run for my money. As a cornerback, you’ve just got to be consistent and put one play behind you, whether it’s good or bad, and go out and work hard.”

DEFENSE RECOVERS: Tennessee’s defense ended a two-game spell in which it combined for one sack, caused two turnovers and surrendered 79 points with an active performance against the Colts.

“That was very important,” McCourty said. “Those last two games were embarrassing. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play, especially on defense. We just wanted to come out as a unit and get back to the basics that (defensive coordinator) Jerry Gray has instilled in us from the first day.”

The Titans deflected 12 of the 49 passes thrown by Painter, intercepting two of those deflections, sacked him twice, hurried him six times and recorded three tackles for loss. Jason Jones had one sack and a quarterback hurry, and rookie Karl Klug had a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Titans head coach Mike Munchak said those are the types of plays that change outcomes.

“It was fun to watch guys make plays again and have exciting things happen and us turn them into points,” Munchak said.

Barrett Rudd recorded the second interception of Painter after he alertly secured the ball that flew several yards through the air after bouncing off the arm of Jones. Tennessee regained possession at the Indianapolis 38-yard-line and scored a touchdown in seven plays to ice the game with 5:20 remaining.

Jones said the Titans’ defense owed a better performance to fans and each other. He said it is “universal code” for a defensive lineman to get his hands up in the air once it becomes apparent that he’s not going to get to the quarterback.

“The coaches tell all defensive linemen, ‘If all else fails, at least get your hands up,’ ” Jones said. “My first move didn’t work, and I saw he was getting ready to throw so I put my hands up. When you put your hand up, you don’t think that the ball is really going to hit it, but when it does, interceptions and good plays like that can happen, so I’m glad I got my arm up in time. I saw Barrett come right under it, so I knew he was going to get it.”

WASHINGTON SCORES TWICE: Wide receiver Nate Washington scored both of Tennessee’s offensive touchdowns Sunday. 

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw an overhand lateral behind the line of scrimmage to Washington for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 20-0 halftime lead. Hasselbeck and Washington connected for the final score of the game as well — a 14-yard pass that the seventh-year pro leapt and caught over the middle to secure the victory.

“I think the team is excited about the win,” Washington said. “This is a win that we were supposed to get, I feel like. I am very happy about the win but I’m not clicking my heels. We have another game next week to prepare for.”

Washington — Tennessee’s leading receiver — returned to the end zone for the first time since Week 3 against Denver and finished with four catches for 34 yards.

Hasselbeck finished 23 of 33 for 224 yards and a 98.5 passer rating. He completed passes to seven different receivers, including five passes to Javon Ringer for 42 yards, four to Damian Williams for 60 yards, three to Lavelle Hawkins for 18, three to Chris Johnson for 17, two to Jared Cook for 40 and two to Ahmard Hall for 13 yards.

Washington said Sunday was important as Tennessee tries to regain complete rhythm on offense.

“This has to be the week we build back everything we started with,” Washington said. “This was not a team that we wanted to lose against. They’re struggling right now, but we had to make sure we’re doing everything that we have to do.”

Williams said the Titans had better execution Sunday.

“Our game plans were good and we came out and dropped the ball,” Williams said of their previous two losses. “I don’t think that’s who this team is. The team that you saw (Sunday), obviously we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we bounced back pretty good.”

PASSING FANCY: Indianapolis opened the game with eight straight passes, with Painter going 5-for-8 for 38 yards. The Colts did not attempt a run on their first possession and ended with 49 pass attempts and 26 rushes.

Tennessee opened with three straight passes — completions from Hasselbeck to Washington for no gain, to Hawkins for 7 yards and to Williams for 27. The Titans were able to balance their offense with 31 rush attempts and 33 pass attempts.

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