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Notebook: Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright Deliver Critical Plays in Titans Win

Posted Nov 24, 2013

Justin Hunter had to change his plan after a catch because a defender was in his way. Kendall Wright didn’t need such improvisation to cross the goal line.

The young Titans receivers made critical plays throughout the game, both recording their first 100-yard receiving games and scoring touchdowns to put the Titans ahead in Tennessee’s come-from-behind 23-19 victory.

Hunter’s score was a 54-yard catch-and-run on third-and-2 on the opening drive of the second half to give Tennessee a 13-9 lead. After finding an opening in the Raiders’ defense, Hunter took a step to his left, but saw an obstructed path and quickly went to his right, juking two defenders.

“The dude just got in my way, really. I was about to cut across the whole left side of the field,” Hunter said. “I felt energized after I caught the ball, so I was about to cut across the field and he cut me off. The other dude played over the top so I had to cut back.”

The 2013 second-round pick (34th overall) who is most known for his straight-line speed and ability to come down with jump balls showed his route tree has grown, along with the faith quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has in him.

Five of Justin Hunter's six catches occurred on third-down plays. He had his first 100-yard receiving game in Tennessee's 23-19 win.
Click here for the slideshow from the game.

Fitzpatrick targeted Hunter five times on third-down plays, which resulted in five catches for 96 yards and the long score. Fitzpatrick continued building on the rhythm he had already developed with Wright (the 2012 first-rounder) that included two catches for 41 yards and the game-winner on two third-down targets. The last catch capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive that spanned six minutes and answered the TD pass from Raiders QB Matt McGloin to Marcel Reece to give Oakland a 19-16 lead with 6:10 remaining.

“Ryan made a great throw,” Wright said. “All I had to do was look it in and get in the end zone. Before the start of that drive we said we weren’t going to let Rob Bironas come out here and kick a field goal to tie it up. We wanted to go down there and score seven. We’d been in this predicament a lot this season where we had the ball and we couldn’t finish. We finally put it together and finished today.”

Fitzpatrick, who turned 31 Sunday, completed 30 of 42 passes for 320 yards with two TDs and no interceptions for a passer rating of 109.2. It was the fourth start as a Titan for Fitzpatrick, the veteran signed this offseason to backup Jake Locker (out for the season with a foot injury suffered Nov. 10) and third straight game in which he recorded a passer rating of 109 or more.

“Kendall’s really stepped up all year for us. He’s been a real reliable guy for me — a guy that I really trust. Justin Hunter today, all his catches, he really stepped up and made some plays, and obviously the great run after the catch on the touchdown. He was making tough catches, getting hit, having to go to the ground on third down conversions. So I was really proud of him today putting together the performance that he did.”

Fitzpatrick was particularly effective on third down, completing 10 of 14 passes for 152 yards with the two TDs for a passer rating of 146.4. He also scrambled three times for 21 yards as Tennessee converted 10 of the 18 third downs (56 percent) it faced. The Titans were 7-for-9 in the stat in the second half and held the Raiders to 3-for-10 in the game.

“ ‘Fitz’ did a good job buying time in certain situations,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “I think that ‘Fitz’ feels like this is his offense now. The last two and a half games he’s played, he’s played very well.”

It marked the first time that Tennessee had a 300-yard passer and two 100-yard receivers since December 2004, the last time it visited Oakland, (QB Billy Volek, WRs Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett).

Delanie Walker, who added five catches for 46 yards, said Hunter and Wright “basically put us on their back.”

Tennessee is one of six teams in the AFC that is 5-6. Oakland is one of three teams in the conference that is 4-7, which is a considerable difference with five games to play.

“That would have been a big loss for us in terms of what the rest of the season was going to look like,” Fitzpatrick said. “We knew this was going to have a drive at the end of the game, and the guys really stepped up.”

CAREER HIGH: Wright, who already eclipsed his yardage total from his rookie season, set a new career high for receptions in a season. Wright has 65 catches for 763 yards and two TDs this season. He had 64 for 626 and four scores as a rookie.

BACK IN THE LINEUP: Rookie center Brian Schwenke and veteran middle linebacker returned to action for the Titans. Schwenke played for the first time since suffering an ankle injury Nov. 10, and Fokou played for the first time since suffering a knee injury Oct. 13.

KEEPAWAY: The Titans held the ball for a season-high 35:48, which included Tennessee’s longest drive (in terms of plays and time elapsed) of the season: a 16-play, 75-yard drive in 7:49 that ended with a 23-yard field goal by Bironas for a 16-12 Titans lead with 8:52 left in the game.

FLAG UNHAPPY: The Titans were flagged eight times for 85 yards and the Raiders were flagged four times for 50 yards in the first half. Tennessee finished the game with 10 penalties for 100 yards, and Oakland was not assessed a penalty in the second half. In Tennessee’s prior two games, it was flagged a total of 10 times for 79 yards.

INACTIVE FOR TENNESSEE: QB John Skelton, WR/KR Damian Williams (hip), DB Micah Pellerin, LB Zac Diles, C/G Kevin Matthews, T Byron Stingily, DT Mike Martin.

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