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Notebook: Titans' Hot Start Cooled by Penalties, Turnovers

Posted Dec 8, 2013

DENVER — A hot start by Tennessee on a frigid day in Denver wasn’t enough for the Titans, who lost 51-28 to the Broncos.

Tennessee built a 21-10 lead with 6:52 remaining in the second quarter, but Denver surged with 10 points that included an NFL-record 64-yard field goal by Matt Prater as the first half expired.

The Broncos didn’t let the momentum they seized slip in the second half and capitalized on penalties called on the Titans and turnovers down the stretch.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said the end of the first half, combined with Denver scoring on its opening possession of the second half and forcing a turnover on the Titans’ first possession of the second half loomed large. Von Miller tipped a pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Terrance Knighton intercepted the ball at the Tennessee 43.

“That was the part of the game where we had jumped out and made some plays, we got some momentum, but they’re a good team; we knew they were going to come back and do pretty much what they did,” Munchak said. “We just wished, somewhere in there we needed a stop, we needed a play, we needed a tipped ball. We didn’t get those things, and credit them for being the good team that they are.”

Shonn Greene wins the race to the pylon on a 28-yard touchdown.
Click here for the slideshow from the game.

A day that started with a blast didn’t pan out for the Titans (5-8), who began the game with a five-play, 73-yard drive highlighted by back-to-back completions from Fitzpatrick to Justin Hunter. The first converted a third-and-5, and the second gained 57 yards to move to the Denver 1.

A powerful run by Shonn Greene followed a play later to give Tennessee a 7-0 lead with 12:37 left in the first quarter. Greene kept his legs churning after initial contact and knifed into the end zone.

“I just followed my blocks, put my shoulders down and got low. The second time I tried to hit the hole and it was open, so I just dove in,” Greene said.

Moments after Denver tied the score, Leon Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the Denver 3, and Chris Johnson scored a play later for a 14-7 lead with 7:01 remaining. It was a season-best kickoff return by the Titans, who claimed Washington off waivers last week.

Tennessee was able to hold Denver to a field goal late in the first quarter after officials reviewed two plays that were originally called touchdowns, and forced a punt on the next possession, but Denver didn’t have to punt the final 40:36 of the game and scored four touchdowns in the second half.

“We were hanging in there and playing well in the beginning, but then they just took off like a rocket,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said.

TITANS TAKE CHANCES: Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 49-yard line midway through the second quarter, Fitzpatrick faked a handoff to Johnson, rolled to his right and threw a short pass to the back, who had enough running room to gain 23 yards.

Greene busted through the line on the following play for a 28-yard touchdown. It was his longest run as a Titan and gave Tennessee a 21-10 lead with 6:58 remaining in the first half.

“Just great blocks, Chance (Warmack) pulled and had a great block, and I just followed Quinn (Johnson),” Greene said. “All I had to do was run. We didn’t win so individual performances don’t really count. I just wanted to get a win.”

Unfortunately for the Titans, they were unable to call “make it, take it,” and Denver responded with a 10-play, 81-yard drive that gave the Broncos some rhythm.

Fitzpatrick converted fourth-and-1 with a quarterback draw out of the spread formation in the fourth quarter, but the Titans followed with a fumble by Johnson after a catch three plays later that gave Denver the ball at the Tennessee 32 and led to a three-play TD drive by the Broncos.

HUNTER HITS 100: For the second time in three weeks, Hunter recorded more than 100 receiving yards. The rookie had four catches for a career-best 114 yards that also included a 41-yard TD pass from Fitzpatrick to pull the Titans within six at 34-28 with 4:50 left in the third quarter.

“He’s coming along. He’s doing exactly what we ask him to, making the plays that’s being thrown to him,” Washington said. “I’m very proud of the progress, and we just have to get better, can’t be complacent with the little plays we make. We have to put them together throughout the whole game and continue to put them together week-in and week-out.”

POINTS VS. POSSESSION: Part of the game plan for the Titans included keeping the ball away from Broncos QB Peyton Manning, but Tennessee’s four scoring drives lasted 2:23, :27, 3:38 and 2:44. The drive that lasted 3:38 was the Titans’ longest possession of the game.

 “Yeah, you want to keep the ball away from him, but if you can get points then you will take the points anytime you can get them,” Michael Roos said. “I think we all came in here thinking we were going to win. Everyone played hard and we all believed; I felt like we were taking it to them and had control of the game for a while. Little by little, it just started to slip away from us.”

The Titans were held to season lows in third down conversions (22.2 percent) at 2-for-9, offensive plays (48) and time of possession (20:40).

Manning, meanwhile, set a Broncos record with 39 completions on 59 attempts for 397 yards with four TDs, and Denver had 154 yards on 32 rush attempts, while keeping the ball 39:20.

BRRR, THAT’S COLD: The temperature at kickoff was 18 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the fourth coldest starting temperature for a game in Titans/Oilers franchise history.

The three colder games were Jan. 10, 2004 (4 degrees at New England), Dec. 11, 1977 (7 at Cleveland) and Dec. 17, 1989 (9 at Cincinnati).

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