The big plays did not disappear when wide receiver Kenny Britt was lost to a season-ending knee injury. In fact, they expanded to the defense.
Matt Hasselbeck threw three first-half touchdown passes, including one of 80 yards to tight end Jared Cook, and safety Jordan Babineaux scored on the fourth-longest interception return in franchise history as the Tennessee Titans routed the Cleveland Browns 31-13 Sunday at Cleveland.
The Titans took control of the contest with a run of 24 straight points that started with Cook’s touchdown catch 50 seconds into the second quarter and ended with Babineaux’s interception return with 2:49 to play in the third. The lead was large enough that rookie quarterback Jake Locker made his NFL debut when he replaced Hasselbeck with fewer than four minutes remaining.
“We were ready for the challenge and we were able to make plays right off of the bat with Cook’s play for a touchdown,” coach Mike Munchak said. “That was a big play there. The defense did a nice job in the first half especially holding them to field goals and we put some points on the board.”
With the victory Tennessee improved to 3-1 and retained a share of first place in the AFC South in their first game without Britt, its top offensive playmaker through the first two weeks of the season. It also snapped a streak of six straight losses in road games, which dated back to last October.
“I’m not surprised that we’re 3-1,” wide receiver Nate Washington said. “We work very hard. Every single man in the NFL has to put his pants on one leg at a time just like we do. Whether they count us in or count us out we still have to go out and play football. That’s what we did [Sunday]. We did a good job.”
Damian Williams, who started in Britt’s place, caught just one pass for four yards but it was a touchdown reception – the first of his career. Tight end Craig Stevens also had a touchdown catch.
Babineaux replaced Chris Hope on the third Cleveland possession. The interception was his first for the Titans and his first for a touchdown since 2008. However, it also was two yards shy of Cortland Finnegan’s franchise record for the longest in team history. Pete Jaquess (1964) and Darrylll Lewis (1995) had 98-yard returns.
Hope started after having missed the previous two games with a shoulder injury but failed to finish the contest.
“That [interception] was a huge play for us,” Hasselbeck said. “ … That was important. As for offense I think we have done a good job all year. There are things that we do well and things we need to work on, but big plays and explosive gains are something that we have done well.”
Chris Johnson showed a return to form as he ran for 101 yards on 23 carries. That included a season-long run of 25 yards.
“It meant a lot to finally get some open space and get used to being out there,” Johnson said. “Also, getting the running game going on the road instead of the way we started off the first couple weeks with negative plays.
“I’m still working on it right now. I’ve had OK days of work. But I’m just still working and trying to get better.”