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Notebook: Titans Force Four Turnovers, Hit Milestones in 2013 Season Finale

Posted Dec 29, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Unable to make the postseason, the Titans finished the 2013 regular season with consecutive wins.

Tennessee rallied from an early deficit with 16 straight points and came up with a stop against its own end zone to force a field goal. A late interception by Michael Griffin sealed a 16-10 win against the Houston Texans.

“It was great, especially since I almost finished this season with no interceptions, so I’m glad I finally got one,” said Griffin. “We’re just happy to win. We had a five-game losing streak at home and know we’ve got something to build off of in the offseason.”

The victory led to a more energetic buzz in the locker room after the game and gave the Titans (7-9) one more win than a season ago.

Tennessee finished two games out of the final spot in the AFC playoffs but was also able to:

— Help Chris Johnson become the sixth player in NFL history with 1,000 or more rushing yards in his first six seasons. Johnson joined Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Corey Dillon as the only players to do so.

Chris Johnson and Kendall Wright reached offensive milestones in Sunday's season finale. Click here for a slideshow from the Titans' win.

— Enable Kendall Wright to become the fifth player in Titans/Oilers franchise history to have 90 or more catches in a season. Wright joined Charlie Hennigan (101 in 1964), Haywood Jeffires (100 in 1991, 90 in 1992), Derrick Mason (96 in 2004, 95 in 2003) and Drew Hill (90 in 1991) on the list.

— Make Delanie Walker the second tight end in franchise history, joining Frank Wycheck, to have at least 60 catches in a season.

The offensive milestones were products of a season-long effort and combined with a defense that forced four turnovers, and solid play on special teams. The Titans had field goals of 42, 55 and 37 by Rob Bironas and allowed zero punt return yards on six punts (all of which were downed inside the Houston 20) by Brett Kern that netted 42.2 yards.

“We didn’t want to end the season with the record we have. Our goal was to get to the playoffs and that didn’t happen, so to end the season with winning two divisional games is the way we wanted to end it,” Walker said. “That just gives us a head start going into next year. We know we want things to get better, we’ve got to finish, we’ve got to make plays when they come to us, and that goes for everybody. I don’t know what’s going to happen and the situation with coaches and players, I’m just looking forward to coming in next year and hitting the ground running.”

TURNOVERS KEY: Tennessee was plus-three in turnover ratio against Houston, the stat that was most strongly correlated to wins and losses. The Titans were 7-2 with an even or positive turnover ratio, and 0-7 when committing more turnovers than its opponents this season.

Akeem Ayers forced a fumble that was recovered by Zach Brown at the Tennessee 29 in the second quarter, and Ayers intercepted Matt Schaub at the Houston 40 on the Texans’ second offensive play of the second half. Ayers corralled the ball after it bounced off the facemask of Bernard Pollard.

“That was crazy,” Ayers said. “I saw the quarterback throw the ball and I’m running to it like I usually do in case it’s a tipped ball or a situation where he might break lose or something like that. I was just running to the ball and there it was.”

Despite his proximity to the play, Pollard said he didn’t have a good view of it.

“I got busted in the face. It kind of scared me a little bit because I was going to make the tackle. I shouldn’t say it scared me, but it surprised me,” Pollard said. “Those are just plays. As long as I got my pass deflection, I’m cool.”  

Titans defensive tackle Sammie Hill recovered a fumble by Schaub on the third play of the fourth quarter. The Ayers interception (his first of the season) and fumble recovery led to 10 Titans points. Tennessee also fumbled twice but recovered both.

BIG DAY FOR CJ: Johnson rushed 27 times for 127 yards and an 11-yard TD that gave Tennessee a 13-7 lead with 5:39 remaining in the third quarter. It was his second-highest rushing total of the season and gave him 1,077 rushing yards on the year.

“He did a great job today, breaking tackles, making guys miss, getting up the field and getting first downs when we needed it, and that just shows the type of guy he is,” Walker said. “He’s a little guy but he’s very tough and he comes to play. He did that today.”

Wright concurred, saying “CJ ran like a big back today.”

Johnson also sprung loose for a 23-yarder that helped Tennessee add a field goal as the first half expired.

“It felt good out there. It was very important to get the win, and we just knew if we were able to get the ball and keep our offensive line pushing those guys back like we did last week … we knew we would be pretty successful,” Johnson said.

SUCCESSFUL CHALLENGE: Titans coach Mike Munchak successfully challenged a play that was initially ruled a completion from Schaub to DeAndre Hopkins and a fumble caused by Alterraun Verner that Hopkins recovered at the Tennessee 45.

After review, officials determined Verner knocked the ball free before Hopkins could make “a football move” to satisfy that component of what constitutes a reception. Instead of having first-and-10 at the two-minute warning of the first half, the Texans faced third-and-10 from their own 41, and the Titans forced a punt.

“That was good to get that one. That one was a tough call. You never know how they’re going to go with those. Did he catch it? Did he not? We’ve lost some on that,” Munchak explained. “I’ve had some reviews come back and they told me I should have won the reviews. I never look at those as being, we’re too afraid, so that means we’ve made six bad decisions. It’s more, which ones do we challenge? Was it smart to challenge them? What did it cost us by challenging? You take a risk. A lot of those things, that category to me is more, take a look inside the numbers and seeing which ones were a good decision or bad. I thought this was an easy decision to make, because I definitely don’t think he caught it.”

2014 OPPONENTS SET: A win by the New York Jets over the Dolphins Sunday gave them a second-place finish in the AFC East over Miami, determining that the Jets will visit LP Field next year. The Titans will also host Pittsburgh and Cleveland from the AFC North, and the New York Giants and Dallas from the NFC East.

Tennessee will visit Baltimore and Cincinnati from the AFC North, Kansas City from the AFC West, Washington and Philadelphia from the NFC East, and have home-and-away contests against AFC South rivals Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville.    

DRAFT ORDER ALSO SET: The outcomes of Sunday’s games also determined that the Titans will have the 11th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tennessee picked Chance Warmack from the 10th spot in 2013.

In later rounds, Tennessee’s order of selection will rotate between the Detroit Lions, the New York Giants and the St. Louis Rams, and the Titans will have the 10th pick (42nd overall) in the second round.

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