NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In the first game at renamed Nissan Stadium, the Titans looked like a well-oiled machine.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sharp, picking up where he left off a week earlier in the preseason opener at Atlanta.
Bishop Sankey looked like a different running back, busting off a number of impressive runs behind a reshaped offensive line.
And the defense suddenly looked much more formidable, getting stops – and even a score – a week after struggling out of the gate.
It all added up to an impressive 27-14 win on Sunday night over the Rams, which spoiled the homecoming for former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
“It was a fast start,’’ safety Michael Griffin said. “ We did what we were supposed to do, so that was a good thing.”
Mariota was sharp from the get-go. He connected with receiver Kendall Wright on the first offensive play of the game for a 16-yard gain, and guided an early drive that eventually stalled in Rams territory.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Mariota rolled to his right, and with Rams defensive end Robert Quinn chasing him, he connected with tight end Craig Stevens for a 35-yard gain. It was all part of an 8-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a Ryan Succop field goal.
“First of all, offensively, we took the opening drive and went down the field, which was impressive,’’ Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ‘We didn’t finish it the way we wanted to, but we put them back there in a situation where our defense responded. I thought that was really good.”
Mariota’s final numbers: 5-of-8 for 59 yards, along with a passer rating of 84.9. His numbers would’ve looked even better, however, if running back Dexter McCluster would’ve been able to hold onto what looked like a sure touchdown at the end of the team’s second series.
“I thought our offense played well,’’ Mariota said. “We were able to move the ball. We got big gains, big plays. At first we weren’t able to finish, so obviously there are things we can get better at, but any way you can get points on the board, especially in this league, it’s pivotal.”
It was hardly a night of missed opportunities, however. Instead, it was the kind of game that provided optimism for a fan base looking for reasons to get excited following a dismal 2-14 season.
Aside from Mariota, the Titans offered several reasons to feel better.
Sankey, a week after an underwhelming preseason debut in Atlanta, hit the hole fast and ran well. On six carries he ran for 45 yards, and had runs of 18 and 19 yards.
He did his running behind an offensive line that featured two new starters – left guard Byron Bell and right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi. Bell, who started at right tackle last week, replaced veteran Andy Levitre in the lineup. The Titans looked studier, and had more success up front against a Rams defense with plenty of talent.
“I think it was a good start in the run game. I think we really came together as an offensive line,’’ tackle Taylor Lewan said. “We were starting with new guys and mixing it up a little bit, but we were moving the ball today. We understood the talent that we were going against, but I think we rose to the occasion.”
The defense also stepped up and played better on Sunday night.
In fact, it was cornerback Perrish Cox who provided the first points of the night when he intercepted Rams quarterback Nick Foles and raced 24 yards for a touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
Succop’s field goal made it 10-0 late in the first quarter, when the Titans dominated on both side of the football. The Titans first-team defense stopped the Rams on their first three possessions, a week after allowing the Falcons to drive with ease for a touchdown on their opening possession last week.
“That was very important. That was kind of one of our goals as a defense,’’ Cox said. “As players, we have our own meetings about those kind of things, and that was one of the things that we wanted to come out and do since we didn’t come out last week and start fast. Today that was the main goal, just come out and start fast, keep eating and keep the tempo up.”
The Titans looked impressive even when Mariota left the game.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger continues to play well. He completed 7-of-9 passes for 91 yards, and he threw a three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Chase Coffman late in the second quarter to make it 17-0. Another Succop field goal made it 20-0 just before halftime.
The Rams scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Chris Givens to make it 20-7 in the third quarter before the Titans made it 27-7 late in fourth quarter on a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Tanney to Coffman, his second score of the night.
The Rams added a touchdown late to account for the final margin.
The Titans travel to Kansas City on Friday night to face the Chiefs in preseason game No.3.
“I think this team has worked really hard in camp. They have been physical and competitive and we have had some really good practices,’’ Whisenhunt said. “But you can only get so much out of practice. When you can translate that on the field, that’s something that is really important.
“It was nice to see us do that tonight. It was a good energy with our team playing on our home field…It was a good start for us here.”
The Titans take on the St. Louis Rams in their 2015 preseason home opener at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)