Entering this one, the perception of the Titans and Browns couldn’t have been much different. Cleveland was riding high on the hype train after a strong rookie season from Baker Mayfield. A new toy in Odell Beckham Jr. was set to make the offense really pop. For the first time in a long time, there is legitimate optimism in Cleveland.
Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off of their third straight 9-7 season. But because of their brand of football — running the ball and solid defense — they often get overlooked despite being one of the more consistent franchises over the last three years.
Who would win out? Right out of the gates, Cleveland seemed to match the hype. Mayfield found Beckham and Rashard Higgins for big gains as the Browns walked down the field. A Dontrell Hilliard touchdown from four yards out put the Browns up 6-0 after the missed extra point.
The Titans and Marcus Mariota came out firing, looking for an answer. A 47 yard catch from A.J. Brown had Tennessee and new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith off and running. The Titans entered the redzone, but saw their drive stall after a drop from Dion Lewis on a screen that may have gone the distance.
Cleveland held a 6-3 lead going into the second quarter. But the Browns couldn’t get out of their own way. Four Cleveland penalties powered a Titans drive that ended in a Derrick Henry touchdown, giving Tennessee their first lead of the afternoon at 10-6.
Cameron Wake added to that lead before halftime after a 70 yard punt from Brett Kern. Kern pinned the Browns on their own three and Wake capitalized to extend the Tennessee lead to 12-6.
A.J. Brown got the ball rolling with a run and catch that flipped the field. Brown caught a simple intermediate pattern, then turned the corner — zigging and zagging through the Cleveland defense. Once again though, despite being in striking distance, Tennessee was only able to add three points.
Meanwhile for the Browns, they couldn’t get out of their own way. Penalty after penalty doomed drive after drive for Mayfield and company — until late in the third quarter. Mayfield and Jarvis Landry connected a couple of times to get down to the goal line. David Njoku capped the drive with a three yard touchdown catch, bringing the Browns back to life.
But Derrick Henry quickly found an answer. A 75 yard screen pass brought the Titans right back to a two-score lead.
To follow up the Henry run, Kevin Byard picked off Mayfield, then Mariota delivered a strike to Delanie Walker for six more. Just like that, the Titans lead had grown to 29-13.
Logan Ryan picked Mayfield off again for good measure, sticking the final fork in the Browns. Mariota came back out and tossed another touchdown to Walker to bring the score to 36-13.
Believe it or not, the Titans weren’t done. Malcolm Butler picked of Mayfield — his third turnover of the day — and took it back for yet another touchdown.
Once again, the national media ignored the Titans all offseason. Once again, they won a game that they were told they weren’t supposed to win. Sure the Browns hurt themselves today with several penalties, but the Titans whipped the Browns all the way around in the second half. They got after Mayfield, forcing two turnovers and won the battle at the line of scrimmage down two starters on the offensive line.
Marcus Mariota was good, not great. Derrick Henry looked like the guy we saw last December, even without Lewan or Pamphile in the lineup. This defense? Suffocating. Cameron Wake looks like a real difference maker.
What a start.
The Titans return home next week, looking for a hot start in divisional play, welcoming the Colts back to Nashville.