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Notebook: Titans Defense Makes its Case

Posted Sep 29, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s defenders “begged” Titans coach Mike Munchak to defer and let them take the field first if he had the option.

The coach obliged after the Titans won the coin toss, and Titans players made an on-field opening argument more convincing than those found in John Grisham novels.

Alterraun Verner intercepted Jets rookie QB Geno Smith on the second play of the game and returned the ball 34 yards to the New York 18-yard line. It was the first of three takeaways by Verner (each led to a touchdown) in a 38-13 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday at LP Field.

“We begged Coach Munchak to let us go out there first and stepped up to the challenge to get the interception on the second play of the game,” Jurrell Casey said. “Something we try to prepare ourselves for is starting fast and setting our offense up for big plays.”

The Titans’ previous two opponents — Houston and San Diego — scored touchdowns on their opening drives. This time, however, the defense gave the offense advantageous field position.

Tennessee (3-1) handed the ball to Chris Johnson for gains of 6 and 8 yards, before pounding it with Jackie Battle for two short gains. Jake Locker followed with a 1-yard pass to Delanie Walker on third-and-1. Locker added TD passes of 4 yards to Nate Washington after Verner recovered a Smith fumble caused by Zach Brown and 16 yards to Justin Hunter after Verner intercepted Smith in the final two minutes of the first half.  

Titans defenders congratulate Alterraun Verner after one of his three takeaways against the Jets in Tennessee's 38-13 victory.
Click here for a slideshow from the game.

Verner said he and cornerback Jason McCourty discussed how they were going to play the formation the Jets used on their second snap. Smith tried to connect with Stephen Hill, and Verner broke in front of the receiver. Verner located the ball on that play and said the ball pretty much found him on his second interception. With four pickoffs, he’s already surpassed his best total for a season (three as a rookie in 2010), and he has two fumble recoveries for six total takeaways this year.

“I think he threw it a little behind to give me a chance to get the ball. We were just in a man-to-man, and I was able to make the play,” Verner said. “The second one, Santonio (Holmes) just ran a hard outside release. I was thinking it was about to be a fade to be honest. I was trying to haul butt to try to get in front of him. He just sat down and I was still looking at him; I just so happened to turn and then it hit my hands or it hit my shoulder. I really don’t even know how I caught that one to be honest, like I just hit the ground and kind of saw the ball laying there.”

Munchak said he was pleased with the way the defense took advantage of crowd noise, seized momentum early and never lost its grip.

HIGHS AND A LOW FOR LOCKER: Locker completed 18 of 24 passes for 149 yards and recorded his first NFL game with three TD passes. It was his 15th start, but his roll ended early in the third quarter when he suffered an injury to his right hip after being hit by Muhammad Wilkerson and bouncing off Jets linebacker Quinton Coples at the end of the play.

There was a solemn silence while Titans medical staff members evaluated Locker on the field and teammates told him encouraging words. As Locker left the field on a cart, the home fans chanted “Jake, Jake, Jake…”

“It’s scary. That was our leader that went down,” Walker said. “That’s the leader that controls the offense, runs the offense. He had a great day. He threw three touchdowns and was rocking and rolling. You could tell everyone was nervous because we lost a true leader.”

Locker was replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 3-for-8 passing for 108 yards, which was boosted by a 77-yard TD pass to Washington (the longest catch of Washington’s career).

5,000 RECEIVING YARDS: The long catch by Washington, which was made more difficult because of coverage by Antonio Cromartie and Washington’s collision with back judge Billy Smith put Washington over 5,000 career receiving yards and gave him his second straight 100-yard receiving game.

Washington had four receptions for 105 yards a week after recording eight catches for a career-best 131 yards. He now has 332 career receptions for 5,062 yards and 37 TD catches.

“I’m not going to lie, when I caught the ball, I was so surprised that I ran into that referee. I was wondering if he was working for them (laughs),” Washington said. “It was unfortunate I ran him over but I was able to stay on my feet, thanks to God.”

The nine-year veteran who entered the league as an undrafted free agent said the milestone “means a lot, especially for a guy like me.”

“A lot of people say I’m not even supposed to be here, but it’s a true testament to God working through me and hard work,” Washington said. “I’ve been working very hard, trying to stay consistent and persistent with what I do.”

PRESSURE PACKED: The Titans sacked Smith five times, pushing the season tally to 14, and frequently pressured him.

Karl Klug completed the “trifecta” when he quickly penetrated the Jets’ line on a screen play and was credited with a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery. Klug recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown (his first) to put Tennessee up 31-6 with 11:45 left in the fourth quarter. Smith tried to switch the ball behind his back from his right hand to his left and lost the ball.

Ropati Pitoitua recorded his first two sacks as a Titan and fourth and fifth of his career. Pitoitua dropped Smith for a loss of 8 in the first quarter, and nearly recorded a safety in the third quarter when he tackled Smith for a loss of 14. Officials, however, ruled that Smith’s forward progress stopped at the New York 1-yard line before both players landed in the end zone.

Jurrell Casey was credited with a sack in the second quarter when he forced Smith out of bounds after a loss, and Brown added a sack of Smith in the fourth quarter. The Jets lost a total of 50 yards on the five sacks by the Titans. Tennessee also recorded 11 quarterback hits, with Brown registering four and Derrick Morgan recording two.

“Our coach gave the defense the chance to go out there and set the tone. I thought we answered it. (Defensive coordinator Jerry) Gray, the guy has just been answering calls since the offseason,” said Bernard Pollard, who tied with Moise Fokou for the team lead with eight tackles.

“That’s how we want to treat any quarterback if we can get that,” Pollard said. “He just so happened to be a rookie. He’s going to be good. Being a rookie, people don’t understand, you’re going to go through some growing pains, and today was one of them, but he’s going to keep his head up.”

NEVER TRAILED: Last week it took 59:45 for the Titans to seize the lead against the Chargers, but this time, Tennessee needed only 3:03 to claim the edge against the Jets (2-2).

McCourty said preventing points on the opening drive was a point of emphasis, and the turnover (and takeaways that followed) made it even better.

“We wanted to go out there and put a stop to that, and as a defense we rallied together, and Mr. Alterraun Verner is continuing to cause takeaways,” McCourty said. “Six turnovers in the first four weeks is just so impressive. He got it started early, kept it going and passed the torch to Klug. We were able to make plays on defense and that was huge for us as a team.”

AGAINST THE NUMBERS: The Jets entered the game ranked first in the NFL in red zone defense (allowing opponents a 22.2 percent touchdown rate inside their own 20), but the Titans went 3-for-4. New York also entered ranked second in the league in third down percentage (26.9), but Tennessee converted 10 of 18 third downs (56 percent).

FOUR IN A ROW: The game marked the fourth straight that the Titans did not commit a turnover and the fourth straight in which they won time of possession. Tennessee joined the 1995 St. Louis Rams as the only two teams without a turnover in the four first games of a season during the Super Bowl era.

CENTURY MARK: Michael Griffin played in his 100th career game (all with the Titans).

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