Sports, Thrill of Victory

Titans beat Packers thanks to aggressive first quarter

DeMarco Murray will be key to a Titans' victory in Kansas City. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

After the Tennessee Titans hosted the Green Bay Packers at Nissan Stadium on Sunday, Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey said, “We felt like this was a game where we had to make a statement.”

The Titans surely made a statement as they beat the Packers — a perennial powerhouse in the NFL — 47 to 25. The victory, in large part, resulted from the aggressive tone Mularkey set from the start of the game.

On the opening kickoff he called a surprise onside kick. The play did not fall in Mularkey’s favor, as Packers’ linebacker Joe Thomas recovered the ball at midfield, but the Packers’ offense punted after a quick three-and-out.

Titans running back DeMarco Murray had a huge day in leading the team to victory over the Packers. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Titans running back DeMarco Murray had a huge day in leading the team to victory over the Packers. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Thereafter the Titans scored on three consecutive possessions, while the team’s defense limited the Packers to just 17 yards of total offense in the same timeframe.

On the Titans’ first play from scrimmage running back DeMarco Murray followed blocks from fullback Jalston Fowler and tackle Taylor Lewan en route to an untouched, 75-yard touchdown.

On the team’s following possession quarterback Marcus Mariota drove the ball from the TEN 15 yardline to the GB 10 yardline, where Mularkey called a surprise pass from Murray to tight end Delanie Walker. Tennessee had practiced the play Friday with Murray running to the left, but this time they called for Murray to pass while running to the right.

The Titans then cemented a 21-0 lead on their following possession as Mariota completed four of his five passes to tight ends, the last of which was a 9-yard play action fake to Anthony Fasano in the back left corner of the end zone.

Although quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense are capable of dramatic comebacks, Green Bay never overcame the 21-point deficit from the first quarter.

By halftime they had narrowed the deficit to 19-points because Rodgers led three scoring drives (TD, FG, TD) in the second quarter. But as the Packers’ offense found rhythm, the Packers’ defense and special teams unit did not. In the same quarter the unit allowed the Titans to score two more touchdowns.

With 8:25 remaining before the half, Mariota threw a 32-yard bomb to receiver Rishard Matthews in the left corner of the end zone. Then, on the team’s following possession, Titans’ cornerback LeShaun Sims recovered a muffed fair catch by Trevor Davis, which led to a another 6-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to receiver Kendall Wright.

The rest of the game followed a similar narrative: the Packers were unable to get all three phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) in rhythm in order to overcome the Titans’ dominating first quarter performance.

Marcus Mariota had yet another great game in the Titans' win over the Packers. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Marcus Mariota had yet another great game in the Titans’ win over the Packers. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

At one point Green Bay narrowed the deficit to 13 points (22-35), but the Titans immediately responded with a 5-play, 55-yard drive in which rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe caught his first touchdown pass. Sharpe celebrated by lying in the back of the end zone and pretending to go to bed, which drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The biggest performers on offense were Mariota, Murray and Walker. En route to having a 96.3 quarterback rating Mariota completed 73 percent of his passes for 295 yards, four touchdowns and zero turnovers. Murray had two touchdowns as he gained 123 yards rushing, 33 yards receiving, and 10 yards passing. Walker caught 9-of-11 targets for 124 yards and a touchdown.

Pro Football Focus ranked Mariota as the NFL’s third overall performer on Sunday and Walker as the eighth overall performer, thanks to his six broken tackles and 73-yards gained after the catch.

Defensively, there were standouts for Tennessee as well, particularly rookies LeShaun Sims and Kevin Byard. Sims recovered the aforementioned muffed fair catch; now he has Tennessee’s two fumble recoveries this season. And Byard continued his strong play from last week versus the Chargers, as he led the team with seven solo tackles and recorded a sack on Rodgers.

It would be remiss to not mention that the Titans put on this stellar performance without left tackle Lewan, who was ejected four minutes into the game after making contact with an official. Lewan was upset after Packers’ nose tackle Letroy Guion jumped the snap and hit a defenseless Mariota.

“[The Titans] are a great team, great organization,” said Murray after the game. “We still got a lot of work to do. It was a huge win but we’re trying to do a lot more than just beat this one team.”

The Titans (5-5) are currently second in the AFC South, a game behind the Houston Texans (6-3). Next week they travel to the Indianapolis Colts with an opportunity to redeem their loss from earlier this season. Kickoff is Sunday November 20th at 12:00 PM CST.