The reason the Tennessee Titans’ defense allowed more than one touchdown in a game for the first time this season is obvious – penalties.
The Denver Broncos got to the end zone twice at LP Field on Sunday and got out with a 26-20 victory after running back Correll Buckhalter scored the game-winner on a 6-yard reception with 1:33 to go.
Both touchdown drives included major penalties against the Titans, the last one a pass interference call against safety Chris Hope, which gave the Broncos 49 yards and possession at the Tennessee 1.
“The ball hangs in the air so long … you don’t want to put yourself in position of looking for the ball then misjudge it and give him an opportunity to catch it,” Hope said. “You’re taught to play the hands of the receiver and the eyes of the receiver. I don’t think I prohibited him from catching the ball … but that was pretty much a Hail Mary, hope for a flag-type of pass.
“… Nine times out of 10, that call goes to the offense.”
Through the first three weeks, the defense allowed points eight times – six field goals and two touchdowns. All three opponents were held to fewer than 20 points.
The Broncos, similarly, were forced to settle for twice as many field goals (four) as touchdowns. They did take a 7-0 lead early two plays after a failed third-down conversion became a first down thanks to an unnecessary roughness call.
“It’s penalties,” defensive end Jason Babin said. “They get the ball spotted on the half-yard line (at the end). Come on. They got a personal foul; they got the pass interference. That’s what kept those drives going for them.”
• A free three: Denver coach Josh McDaniels made a huge goof when he called timeout with 28 seconds to play in the first half.
Faced with fourth-and-2 from the Titans’ 18, he could have let the clock run down under five seconds before he stopped it. And it’s not that he used the break to discuss his options – he promptly sent out his field goal unit and got the three points, but he also left the Titans 23 seconds, which – as it turned out – was enough to get three points of their own and tie the score 10-10 at halftime.
“I wish I wouldn’t have called it early,” he said. “… That was a mistake on my part.”
• 0-for-2 on reviews: Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher only challenged one call in the first three games but used his full allotment (two) in this game – to no avail.
First, he disputed that Chris Johnson lost a fumble late in the first quarter.
“(The referee) couldn’t overturn it because he didn’t get an opposite look,” Fisher said. “I thought he was down – down by contact – but you have to have indisputable evidence. … You could see the knee was down but you couldn’t see the ball. So they left it as ruled on the field.”
In the fourth quarter, he challenged the spot after it was ruled Orton converted a fourth-and-1 on a quarterback sneak.
A coach who is successful on both challenges is awarded a third.
• Busy day: Rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner had plenty of passes thrown his way in his first career start.
While plenty of those throws were completed, the good news was that he proved himself a capable tackler with 11 solo stops. He also was credited with three passes defensed.
“I thought he played hard, played well,” Fisher said. “That’s a dynamic offense, and they made some plays on him. … He was there to make the tackle. … I thought he was in the right place doing the right things.”
• Quote of note: “I’m sure there’s not a player in the NFL who gets a flag on them and thinks it’s a (penalty). In high school basketball, I never committed one foul, but I fouled out of 75 percent of the games. Go figure. – Titans’ defensive end Dave Ball, on the fact that the Titans were called for 10 penalties, which cost them a season-high 111 yards.
• Down on the corner: Cortland Finnegan’s reputation as a dirty player obviously grew on a day when he made six stops, one sack and two tackles for losses but the only penalty against him was an offside call on a field goal attempt.
“It was one of the cheapest games that I’ve ever seen out of some of those players,” Denver quarterback Kyle Orton said. “… When we’ve got (offensive lineman) Chris Kuper with his helmet off, getting punched and all of that stuff, it’s ridiculous. If that’s the type of player Cortland Finnegan wants to be, well then he is a cheap player. He’s not a good player.”
• Injury issues: Two defensive linemen, Sen’Derrick Marks and Derrick Morgan, left the game with knee injuries. The play after Marks was hurt, defensive end
The play after Marks went out, defensive end William Hayes went down and needed attention from trainers but soon returned.
Morgan watched the second half in a sweat suit. Marks said he was scheduled for an extensive examination Monday.
That unit started with one of its members, defensive end Jacob Ford, among the inactives because of an injury and – of course – position coach Jim Washburn remains slowed by a broken leg he sustained two weeks ago during a loss to Pittsburgh.
Also, wide receiver Justin Gage caught two passes in the first quarter before he was knocked out with a hamstring injury.
• Briefly: Marc Mariani became the first Titans’ player since Derrick Mason on Nov. 18, 2001 (at Cincinnati) to return a kickoff for a touchdown when he took one back 98 yards in the third quarter. … Backup running back Javon Ringer carried just two times, but the first of those two was for a career-long 54 yards. He lost four yards on his only other attempt. … Wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive game and tied Nate Washington for the team lead with two touchdown receptions on the season.