Will Witherspoon saw the ball on the ground and immediately understood how a change of possession potentially could change the game.
“I was one of the guys coming from the edge,” the Tennessee Titans’ linebacker said. “I’m seeing the whole thing happen, and I’m just like, ‘Please, somebody just get the ball.’”
Alterraun Verner did exactly that, which is exactly what he had done in previous weeks. It also was no different than what he did during his college career at UCLA.
His fumble recovery near the goal line thwarted a Philadelphia Eagles’ scoring threat and kept the Titans within nine, 16-7, with 5:51 to play in the third quarter. After that, Tennessee outscored Philadelphia 30-3 and cruised to a third straight victory last Sunday.
It also made the rookie cornerback one of three players in the NFL with multiple fumble recoveries and interceptions through the first seven weeks of the season. He started with a fumble recovery against the New York Giants on Sept. 26 and had an interception in each of his first two starts, at Dallas (Oct. 10) and at Jacksonville (Oct. 18).
The others were Giants’ cornerback Deon Grant (three fumble recoveries, two interceptions), an 11th-year veteran, and New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich (two fumble recoveries, two interceptions), a fifth-year veteran.
Perhaps coincidentally – perhaps not – the Titans won all four games in which Verner had a takeaway.
“I would not have expected this production – he makes plays,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Now he made plays in college, so you know he’s capable of making plays. But making the plays he’s making at this level – he’s off to a real good start and he makes them a lot of different ways.”
It was six months earlier – to the day – from Sunday that the Titans first discussed Verner’s penchant for getting his hands on the football. It was that day, April 24, that they traded up seven spots in the fourth round to select him 104th overall in the draft.
Team personnel talked pointed to his 13 career interceptions and three fumble recoveries in college as evidence It became more apparent in the preseason when he had one interception and one fumble recovery.
In recent weeks that knack has become obvious to anyone who has watched the Titans play.
And he could have had more. Sunday, on the defensive series following his fumble recovery, he nearly intercepted a pass, which he probably would have returned for a touchdown.
“It hit my hands, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened,” he said. “I really don’t know. It just slipped out of my hands.”
Fortunately for the Titans, that was not the case with the fumble recovery.
“That was changed whole game right there,” defensive tackle Jason Jones, who forced the fumble, said. “… I definitely didn’t think (Verner) would be down in there, but as long as a blue jersey got it we were good.”
Of course Verner was down in there. That’s where the ball was.