On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans beat the Denver Broncos, 13-10, at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.
Here are five takeaways from the game.
1. The Titans established a 13-0 lead through half and held on for the rest of the game
In the battle of halves, the Titans came out on top as they bested the Broncos in points scored (13 vs. 10), total yards (190 vs. 119), third down conversions (6-of-10 vs. 0-of-4) and time of possession (20:19 vs. 9:41).
The team’s offensive efficiency stemmed almost entirely from the run. Through the first two quarters, quarterback Marcus Mariota completed just five pass attempts for 52 yards, but he and running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry gained 130 yards on 25 carries for an average of 5.2 yards per attempt.
Unfortunately, statistics do not demonstrate the extent to which the Titans dominated the first half-hour of play.
Of the Broncos six offensive possessions, four ended with a punt, one ended in a fumble, and the last closed at the second quarter’s finish. Moreover, the Titans might have scored 20 points instead of 13, if not for two offensive pass interference penalties from tight end Delanie Walker.
The first turned a would-be field goal attempt into a punt, and the second nullified a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rishard Mathews.
2. Marcus Mariota’s hot steak came to an end
Through of the month of November, Marcus Mariota was leading all AFC quarterbacks in a number of statistics: passer rating (115.0), passing yards (1,124), yards per attempt (8.65) and touchdown passes (11).
But this hot streak came to an end against Denver’s “No Fly Zone” secondary, as the second-year quarterback completed just 30 percent of his passes (6-of-20) for 88 yards and zero touchdowns.
Despite these struggles, Mariota had success on the ground. He gained 38 yards on 8 carries, three of which gained first down. He also completed a Tom Brady-like, over-the-shoulder pass to Rishard Mathews in the fourth quarter.
Coincidentally, that pass was the Titans’ first completion of the second half. It came with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
3. The Titans forced their first fumbles of the season at critical moments
Although hard to believe, the Titans did not have a forced fumble through their first 12 games of the season. That streak came to an end on Sunday, as the defense forced and recovered two fumbles, both of which came at critical moments of the game.
After the Titans established a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Broncos were driving on their following possession when safety Rashad Johnson forced a fumble from running back Justin Forsett. Cornerback Jason McCourty recovered the ball, and the Titans went on to extend their first quarter lead to 10-0.
Tennessee then sealed the victory with 53 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, when linebacker Avery Williamson forced a fumble from tight end A.J. Derby, after an 11-yard reception at the DEN 40.
4. Harry Douglas prompted fight from Aqib Talib
Perhaps the biggest news surrounding this game was the block receiver Harry Douglas made on cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
With 3:10 remaining before half, the Titans rushed Derrick Henry up the middle of the offensive line for a 6-yard gain. On the play, Douglas cut-block Harris Jr. at his knees, causing the cornerback to leave the game. He returned later, apparently uninjured.
Although the play was legal, Denver players were clearly upset afterwards. They considered the block unnecessary and dirty, since Douglas and Harris Jr. were lined up on the left side of the field, away from the run.
So on the following play, cornerback Aqib Talib started a skirmish with Douglas after the whistle. Talib was penalized for unnecessary roughness, and the Titans eventually converted a 41-yard field goal from Ryan Succop to push their lead to 13-0.
After the game, Douglas said that Harris Jr. should have seen the block coming, since they were looking at one another moments beforehand. A more-heated Talib threatened to fight Douglas the next time both players are in Atlanta, where they share the same agent.
5. LeShaun Sims, Brice McCain stepped up
Heading into this matchup, there were concerns surrounding the Titans’ secondary, since the organization released veteran cornerback Perrish Cox on November 28, after a poor performance against the Chicago Bears.
But LeShaun Sims and Brice McCain stepped up in Cox’s absence. According to Pro Football Focus, they were two of the Titans’ top five defensive performers, as they collectively had three pass breakups and allowed just four catches on nine targets for 20 yards.
6. Titans control their destiny in the playoff hunt
With Sunday’s win, the Titans have a 7-6 record and control their destiny for the rest of the season.
If they win their remaining games — at Kansas City, at Jacksonville and versus Houston — the Titans will led the AFC South with a 10-6 record at the end of the season. In this situation, the Texans could have a 9-7 record at best.
Kansas City is undoubtedly the biggest test remaining on the schedule. The Chiefs (10-3) currently led the studded AFC West, and they have won 20 of their last 23 regular season games.
But after their win over the 2015 Super Bowl Champions, Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey is confident that his team can play with anyone in the NFL.
“We have won some close games, and against some good football teams … [This win] reconfirms what we’re doing, that we can play with anybody in this league.”
Kickoff between the Titans and Chiefs happens at 12:00 PM CST on December 18.