After back to back brutal division losses, the Titans got a much needed bounce back win in Atlanta today, taking care of the Falcons with relative ease. The Titans win combined with surprising losses from the Colts and Texans guarantees that Tennessee will own a share of first place in the AFC South heading into Week 5. Getting out of Taylor Lewan’s suspension — including three road games — with a 2-2 record is a result pretty much all Titans fans would have taken if offered before the season started. Of course, you’d prefer the two losses not be the division games, but 2-2 is 2-2 at the end of the day. Here are the winners and losers from Titans 24, Falcons 10.
Marcus Mariota: Winner
The Titans quarterback was the topic of lots of conversation over the last couple weeks — much of it negative — but he responded with one of his best games as a pro, going 18 of 27 for 228 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no turnovers. Almost as importantly, he took zero sacks, wisely getting rid of the ball several times. Mariota was decisive, accurate, and aggressive, especially in the first half. This was the Mariota we saw in Dallas last year.
Now, before we get too carried away... we’ve seen this from 8 before only to see him backslide in subsequent games. There has to be consistency with him playing at this level over a large sample of games before I fully buy back in, but this was an outstanding performance from the quarterback and exactly what we’ve been begging to see from him. If the Titans see this version of Mariota moving forward, this will be a very fun football season.
A.J. Brown and Corey Davis: Winners
Probably the most exciting part of this win was seeing Mariota trust his talented young receivers and then seeing those receivers reward that trust with big plays. Brown picked jersey number 11 because of his admiration for Falcons star Julio Jones, but he outperformed his role model on the same field today, catching 3 passes for 94 yards and 2 touchdowns. He continues to look like a potential star in the making, showing off both his run after catch skills on touchdown number one and then his ball tracking skills on touchdown number two. Brown is on pace for nearly 900 yards in 2019 through his first four NFL games.
Corey Davis had one bad drop, but caught his other five targets for 91 yards and a touchdown of his own. He won a 50-50 ball and looked good after the catch. The Titans made a point to get him involved early, throwing to Davis on the very first snap of the game for a first down. He’s simply too talented to be used as infrequently as he was in the first three games. This should be the norm for Davis moving forward.
The Offensive Line: Winners
Mariota deserves most of the credit for staying clean today in my opinion. He was getting the ball out quickly and not needlessly loitering in the pocket. However, any time you finish a game with a goose egg in the sack department the big boys up front should get some kudos as well.
The Titans also picked up 138 yards on the ground at a solid-but-not-spectacular 4.1 yards per carry. The unconventional rotation at right guard between Jamil Douglas and rookie Nate Davis worked out for one game at least. Davis had a few rough moments, but overall looked like he belonged which is encouraging for a rookie offensive lineman making his NFL debut on the road with no benefit of preseason game action. It’ll be interesting to see how the Titans choose to handle this spot moving forward.
With Taylor Lewan returning this week, the Titans offensive line suddenly looks like they might have a chance to become a strength instead of a weakness.
Titans Run Defense: Winners
For the second straight week the Titans run defense was stout, bottling up Devonta Freeman for just 28 yards on 12 carries and giving up just 58 rushing yards total. The Falcons inability to get anything going on the ground left Atlanta in a lot of 3rd and long situations. They managed to convert some of those, but not enough to keep drives alive all the way to the end zone.
As usual, Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown, and Kenny Vaccaro were particularly active around the line of scrimmage. Wesley Woodyard seemed to get a bit more playing time on defense in this one as well and he showed up with some key stops himself.
Matt Ryan threw for almost 400 yards so what’s the secondary doing here as winners? Well, for one it took Ryan 53 attempts to get his 397 yards which means he averaged just under 7.5 yards per attempt for the game. The secondary also deserves some credit for the defense’s 5 sacks. Ryan is known for getting the ball out quickly and has been sacked at least 5 times in a game just three times since the start of 2016 before today.
Malcolm Butler, in particular, did a fantastic job holding Julio Jones to just 4 catches and 52 yards on 7 targets on the day. He and Adoree’ Jackson both looked more fired up today than usual and their play reflected it.
Harold Landry and Jurrell Casey: Winners
After a slow-ish start to the season, Landry showed up big today, contributing 2 of the Titans 5 sacks and adding 2 more quarterback hits. This was the first multi-sack game of his young career and now brings him to 3 for the season. With Cameron Wake leaving this game early with a hamstring issue, Landry’s impact was huge off the edge.
Casey got his first sack of the year and it was a big one. He got free and was able to knock the ball out of Ryan’s hands and recover it himself for the game’s only turnover.
First Half Arthur Smith: Winner
The Titans came out of the gates aggressive on offense for once and it paid off big time. Marcus Mariota and the receivers got in a rhythm and put up 24 points before halftime. It was a welcome relief from the conservative, sleepy starts we had grown accustomed to from this offense.
Second Half Arthur Smith: Loser
On one hand, I understand the decision to try and take the air out of the ball in the second half as the Titans tried to protect a 24-7 lead on the road. However, taking the foot off the gas as early as they did put some unnecessary strain on the defense. I would have liked to see the aggressive mentality carry over for longer than it did.
Brett Kern, LeShaun Sims, Chris Milton: Winner
I’ve had a bad habit of leaving Kern off this list in the past, but not today. The Titans Pro Bowl punter put all 5 of his punts inside the Falcons 20-yard line and put 4 inside the 10. He continues to be an incredible weapon for this team and it’s criminal that he hasn’t been selected for an All-Pro team yet. Maybe this is the year.
Milton and Sims are Kern’s gunners on the punt team and they were outstanding today as well, making big tackles in the open field and downing punts. The Titans special teams have mostly been excellent this year.
Mike Vrabel: Winner
Despite a head scratching decision to go for it on 4th down in field goal range with a chance to put the Titans up three scores late, Vrabel once again showed his ability to coach through adversity in this game. In games with at least 10 days to prepare, Vrabel is now 4-1 as a head coach with the lone loss being the 2018 season opener in Miami. Three of those four wins have been by at least two touchdowns too.
There was a lot of negativity and noise surrounding this team over the past ten days, but Vrabel kept control and managed to get an outstanding all around team effort in Atlanta. The Titans still need to work on putting together these types of showings after success, but there is no panic in this coaching staff.