NEW ORLEANS — The suddenly ready-for-primetime Tennessee Titans made a splashing return to Monday Night Football, forcing three turnovers and routing the host New Orleans Saints 31-14 here Monday night.
Led by three interceptions from Keith Bulluck and a pair of touchdown throws from Vince Young, the Titans made a statement in their first national television appearance in nearly three seasons.
It was something that tight end Bo Scaife said coach Jeff Fisher emphasized as their chance to make a statement to the league about what kind of team they are.
“Coach Fisher kind of stressed that to us, ‘Go out there and give the NFL a look at what the Titans are,’” said Scaife, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Young that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter. “Everyone was worried about the Saints this and the Saints that. They needed to worry about us.”
The Saints, now 0-3, will instead have to worry about trying to regroup after a dismal four-interception performance from quarterback Drew Brees.
The Titans dominated the game from the outset, but had little to show for it early on, with only a 3-0 lead despite more than 11 minutes in time of possession in the first quarter.
Tennessee moved to the Saints 16 after taking the opening kickoff, only to have that drive stall with losses of 11 yards on a Roydell Williams reverse and 12 yards when Young fumbled the snap from center.
Tennessee then later settled for a 33-yard Rob Bironas field goal in the quarter after reaching the Saints’ 10-yard line with first-and-goal.
“We were moving the ball up and down the field, and every time we didn’t, we were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Scaife said.
The Titans finally got on track offensively after the Saints failed on a fourth-and-1 deep pass from their own 45 to set Tennessee up in plus-territory. Young needed six plays to move 45 yards, getting the final 35 yards on a touchdown toss to Brandon Jones.
“After that touchdown, I was so happy,” said Jones, who had dropped a key pass in a 22-20 loss to Indianapolis last week. “That was really Vince’s touchdown. He gave me different signals and different routes.”
The Titans could have had more after the first of three interceptions by Bulluck, but Young was intercepted by New Orleans’ Jason David on the next play.
The Saints put up enough of a fight to even take the lead in the third quarter on the second of two 1-yard touchdowns by Reggie Bush.
That’s when the Titans went back to running from their spread formation and regained the lead for good. Utilizing primarily the running of Chris Brown and LenDale White on the drive, the Titans took the ball after giving up the lead and went 57 yards in nine plays over 5:36 to re-establish control.
White and Brown combined for 41 yards rushing on the drive, with White doing the scoring from a yard out to put the Titans up 17-14.
“We knew we had to make a statement, that we had to go down there and take the momentum back,” Brown said. “We knew we had to score seven and not three to take the crowd out of the game.”
The Titans, leading the NFL in rushing coming into the game, were limited to 98 yards on the ground by the Saints, but that drive was enough of a jumpstart to put Tennessee back in control.
“To score a touchdown on that drive was huge, because I think it set the tone for the rest of the game,” center Kevin Mawae said.
From there, the Tennessee defense took control. With the Saints marching into Tennessee territory on their next possession, Travis LaBoy rushed past Brees and knocked the ball from his hands where Randy Starks recovered it near midfield.
From there, the Titans moved back downfield then went up 24-14 as Young found Scaife on a rollout pass from 3 yards away.
“We took that 14-10 lead, then they countered that, 17-14,” Brees said. “Now we have the ball, and we crossed midfield. We turned the ball over, and that shifted the momentum, and we never got it back.”
The Titans defense made sure of that, as Bulluck intercepted Brees two more times, returning one to the 8-yard line, even though Bironas would miss a 27-yard field goal.
Sandwiched between the two Bulluck picks, however, was one by Vincent Fuller that iced the game for Tennessee. Fuller caught a ball deflected by Cortland Finnegan and went 61 yards for a TD to make the score 31-14.
“Cortland deflected it, and it kind of bounced right into my hands,” Fuller said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Get to the end zone as fast as possible.’”
The Titans now head into their bye week and will host the winless Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 7 at LP Field.
The Titans returned to the spotlight and played well enough to win, despite the occasional lapses in plus territory.
“I wished we had played a little more consistent during the game,” Bulluck said. “But a win is a win, … so we’ll take it.”
Especially now that the primetime spotlight has finally returned.