NASHVILLE – Clinging to a three-point lead in the closing seconds on Sunday, things didn’t look good for the Titans.
The Chargers had the ball at the one-yard line, first and goal. On the clock, just 34 seconds.
On the sideline, Titans rookie A.J. Brown knows what he was thinking.
“Honestly,” Brown said with a smile, “if I was the coach, I would have let them score so we’d have a chance to get the ball back and have a chance to score.”
Then, something crazy happened.
Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard knocked the ball out of the hands of Chargers running back Melvin Gordon at the goal line on a second-down play – just moments after a Los Angeles touchdown call was reversed. The ball ended up on the arms of defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who was in the end zone.
A review confirmed the fumble, and the scene at Nissan Stadium did, too – the Titans had pulled off an improbable win, 23-20 over the Chargers.
“I would say the win probability was a high 96 percent for them to win,” said Woodyard. “But we fought, and we defended every blade of grass. We kept fighting, and we never gave up.”
Casey could hardly believe it as he celebrated with his teammates.
“The ball dropped into my arms,” Casey said. “The next thing you know, the crowd was going crazy and we’d won the game. It was crazy. But man, we needed this. This is huge.”
The Titans improved to 3-4 on the season with the win on a day quarterback Ryan Tannehill stepped in as the team’s starting quarterback.
Tannehill played well, throwing for over 312 yards a pair of touchdowns while engineering one impressive drive after another. Tannehill ended up completing 23-of-29 passes with the two scores, and he finished with a passer rating of 120.1.
What had been a stagnant offense in recent weeks with Marcus Mariota at the helm suddenly looked more potent, and 22 first downs and 403 yards of offense was a welcome relief. Running back Derrick Henry did his part, too, rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown.
“It felt good,” Tannehill said of the offense. “Obviously we did some good things, moved the football, put some points on the scoreboard. Guys played extremely hard from the beginning of the game. I’m really proud of the way the guys played.”
Tannehill found receiver Tajae Sharpe open in the back of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown to give the Titans a 16-10 lead with 13:11 left in the contest. It capped a 14-play, 85-yard drive that took 7:09 off the clock.
After the Chargers cut the lead to 16-13 with 10:55 left on a 50-yard field goal by kicker Chase McLaughlin, the Titans answered back and appeared on the verge of being able to win going away after Henry’s 11-yard touchdown run gave the Titans a 23-13 lead with 6:39 left.
But the Titans allowed a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to running back Austin Ekeler to make it 23-20 with 5:09 left and after Tannehill was stopped on a fourth-and-one near midfield late, the Chargers were in a position to win it before the heroic goal line stop.
“The football gods were on our side tonight,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said. “It was amazing – probably the best Titans game I’ve been a part of for sure. We just have a mentality on defense that we have a blade of grass to defend and not give up on anything.
“Things might not have looked good, but we kept playing hard and we found a way to win.”
Earlier in the game, Tannehill connected with receiver Corey Davis for an eight-yard touchdown pass to make it 10-10 at the half. The touchdown toss capped an eight-play, 86-yard drive with just 23 seconds left on the clock before halftime.
The Titans took a 3-0 lead early on a 45-yard field goal by kicker Cody Parkey before the Chargers scored 10 straight points to take a 10-3 lead. Los Angeles got on the board with a 29-yard field goal by McLaughlin before a one-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Gordon.
First-round pick Jeffery Simmons saw his first action after being activated from the Non-Football Injury list on Saturday, and he recorded a sack and two tackles for a loss, along with four overall tackles.
The Titans return to Nissan Stadium next Sunday to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“That was a crazy game, with a crazy ending,” Sharpe said. “I’ve never really had a game come down to something like that, so it was great. It was fun to watch the ending from the sideline, watching our defense do its thing – I felt like a fan out there.
“Now we need to carry the momentum from this and keep it going. We needed this a whole bunch. After a couple of losses, you kind of forget what this feels like. But coming in the locker room after win like that, it electrifies everybody and gives everybody the spark that we needed.”
The Tennessee Titans take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 7 of the 2019 season at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)