Officially, the Tennessee Titans ended the first quarter of Saturday’s preseason victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even in turnovers at one apiece.
Realistically, however, the Titans’ defense squeezed a game’s worth of takeaways into a stretch of slightly more than five minutes but did not get credit for it.
The Titans forced and recovered three fumbles in a span of nine plays while the starters were still on defense. That would have matched their regular-season high for recoveries of a year ago had two of them not been negated.
One video review and one penalty ultimately lessened the impact the starting defense had on Tennessee’s 27-20 victory at LP Field but did nothing to diminish optimism for the coming season.
“I think that’s a great performance,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “That’s something we want to continue throughout the regular season – create turnovers for our offense to give them the short field.”
The first apparent fumble and recovery was made by linebacker Ryan Fowler when cornerback Nick Harper slung wide receiver Brian Clark to the ground after a short third-down reception. Officials originally ruled that Clark was on top of Harper when the ball came out, but after a video challenge by Tampa Bay it was ruled his knee hit the ground first.
Five plays later, Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan slammed into running back Earnest Graham as Graham turned to run after a pass completion. The ball came out and was returned 20 yards to the Buccaneers’ 22 by linebacker David Thornton. That play stood.
“I was able to run into (Graham) and he coughed it up,” Finnegan said. “I wish we would have scored but (Thornton) is so slow nowadays he can’t score.”
Shortly into Tampa’s next offensive series defensive end William Hayes actually did score a touchdown on a fumble recovery.
He scooped up the fumble after defensive tackle Tony Brown sacked quarterback Josh McCown and knocked loose the ball. In the process of doing all that, though, Brown also committed a facemask penalty, which returned the ball to the Buccaneers and gave them an additional 15 yards.
“When I tried to get the ball out, that’s when I got my hands in his face,” Brown said. “It was a good call.
“… The good thing about it is that we continue to get to the quarterback. That’s what we want to do. Whether it’s a sack or just get in his face or it’s a big hit, that’s just what we do around here. We did a pretty good job (tonight).”
Even if the final stats don’t necessarily show it.