I’m trying not to get too carried away in the emotion of yesterday’s dramatic 26-23 overtime walk-off win over the defending champion Eagles, but how could I not? I was lucky enough to be there in person, and Marcus Mariota to Corey Davis was truly one of the greatest live sporting event moments I have ever experienced. When Davis latched on to the ball far above Eagles corner Avonte Maddox’s head, it was pandemonium.
It was the kind of moment that we haven’t had enough of in Nashville over the past 10 years and that has left Titans fans with some strange emotional baggage as it relates to this team. Call it Battered Fan Syndrome or whatever you like, but it’s been around this franchise for far too long and it’s time for it to go.
Gone are the “same old Titans”, a team so conservative and, frankly, boring that it ran off some of the fans that jumped on the bandwagon during that magical 1999 season. It’s time for those folks to come back.
After one of the strangest opening games in NFL history, the Titans have won three in a row against the Texans, Jaguars, and Eagles. They’ve done it while dealing with injuries to their starting quarterback, left tackle, right tackle, and tight end. They’ve done it while dealing with their top wide receiver from 2016 and 2017 suddenly quitting after getting off to a poor start. They’ve done it with Eagles fans invading their home field by the thousands.
The team took a chance when they fired Mike Mularkey following the team’s first playoff berth in 9 years and first playoff win in 14 years and replaced him with a rookie head coach who had only been coaching at the NFL level for 4 years. It’s still very early, but it sure looks like that chance is going to pay off.
Mike Vrabel isn’t a perfect coach, but he’s already proven that he’s going to be aggressive and adaptable, two things that none of his Titans predecessors were. He’s also embracing analytics and looking for the small edges that can make or break close games. This excerpt from Peter King’s column this morning is telling about the kind of coach Mike Vrabel wants to be.
So how did he reach this decision? A few things. A 50-yard field goal attempt for Ryan Succop wasn’t a gimme. Vrabel knew his players wanted to go for it. And strategic conscience, assistant to the head coach John “Stretch” Streicher, had given him good advice from his perch in the coaches’ booth upstairs. “If you’re going to go for it,” Streicher said through the headphones, “make sure you leave enough time so you can run enough plays to score.” Vrabel met Striecher when he was an Ohio State assistant, and Streicher got some football experience as director of football ops at James Madison and Texas State before Vrabel called him to come to Nashville last winter.
“Stretch has been valuable for me and our staff,” Vrabel said. “He advises me on replay, timeouts, the clock. In this case, even when the field-goal team was on the field for us, I thought we should go for the win. The odds of making a 50-yard field goal are probably slightly better than making a fourth-and-two at that point in the game against that defense. But I just thought of our players—they love going for it. I thought how tough Marcus was, and how much confidence I had in him. Plus, I guess ties help you, but I don’t know. We didn’t want a tie, even against a great team like this one.”
Essentially, Mike Vrabel is the kind of coach that Titans have been complaining about NOT having for years.
Another common complaint from Titans fans has been the lack of a true No. 1, go-to type wide receiver. Well that’s a thing of the past now too. Corey Davis’ 9 catch, 161 yard, 1 (massive game-winning) touchdown day loudly announced his entrance in to the WR1 category. Before you say “well, it’s just one game”, this performance had been bubbling under the surface for weeks. The offense just finally got healthy enough to catch up to what Davis was already doing. More big days like this are ahead.
Davis’ success, of course, is tied to his quarterback Marcus Mariota. The 4th year QB has shown franchise quarterback play at times during his career, but injuries and a revolving door of bad playcallers has slowed his development. However, with the game on the line, there have been few quarterbacks better than 8. Since the start of the 2017 season, no NFL QB has led more game winning drives than Mariota’s 6. His second half against the Eagles was as good as you’ll see. He looked comfortable, confident, and lethal, hurting Philadelphia with both his arm and his legs. The first full Mariota-LaFleur game should be considered nothing short of a smashing success.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee may be even better. Led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey — who is playing the best football of his career right now — the Titans have a talented and aggressive defense. Harold Landry, the team’s rookie edge rusher, is showing flashes of game changing ability reminiscent of Jevon Kearse. His strip sack of Carson Wentz set up a field goal and helped fuel the Titans furious comeback.
There is a lot to be excited about with this football team, and if all that wasn’t enough, they win at home. The Titans are 12-2 in their last 14 games at Nissan Stadium. The fans who do come out on Sundays have been leaving happy for the past couple years now.
Its time to leave the old baggage of past Titans eras behind us and bring back the excitement that surrounded this team in 1999 and the early 2000’s. It’s time for Nissan Stadium to be filled with loud, rowdy Titans fans helping Landry and the other edge rushers get a jump on opposing tackles. As linebacker Will Compton said, you’re either for the boys, or you’re not.
“For the Boys’ is here to stay in this locker room. You’re either “For the Boys” or you’re not. Get on the train or get off.” @_willcompton sheds further light on @Titans #FortheBoys mantra. (Shirts in the works?)— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) September 26, 2018
It’s time for Tennessee to be for the boys.