Perfect game? Far from it.
Perfect record? Still intact, thanks to a Rob Bironas 41-yard field goal in overtime that allowed the Tennessee Titans to escape with a 19-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers and run their record to 8-0.
Bironas redeemed himself after a 47-yard miss at the end of regulation, nailing the game-winner for his fourth field goal of the game, allowing the Titans to escape a major challenge from the Packers and win despite not playing consistently sharp on either side of the football.
After driving downfield to put Bironas in position for the regulation victory, only to have that kick graze the right upright, the Titans were fortunate enough to win the coin toss for overtime and put their offense right back on the field.
It was then that rookie Chris Johnson, bottled up for a good part of the day on the ground, took control. Johnson accounted for 45 of Tennessee’s 55 yards on the final drive with five carries for 29 yards and a pass from Kerry Collins for 16 more. He helped march the Titans to the Green Bay 23-yard line, where Bironas atoned for his earlier miss, ending the game with 9:36 to play in overtime.
“It was an ugly win, but we got it done,” said Johnson, who finished with 89 yards rushing on 24 attempts and caught six more passes for 72 yards. “We got no yards and we kept going three and out for awhile, but we eventually got it done.”
Tight end Bo Scaife said Johnson, Tennessee’s first-round pick, answered the challenge, with a little help from a three-receiver set, at crunch time to help keep the Titans unbeaten.
“I just feel like we got in three-wide at the end, and we knew it was going to be hard for them to stop the run in that formation,” Scaife said. “We put it on 28’s shoulders. That’s why we drafted him.”
For the Titans, it was a matter of survival, as they managed to win on a short week, just six days after an emotional Monday night victory over Indianapolis.
And they won, despite allowing 314 yards passing by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and yielding 102 yards rushing on the ground — the first time they had won despite allowing those benchmarks since the finale of the 2004 season.
“We found another way to win. I think that’s the biggest thing,” said quarterback Kerry Collins, who completed 18 of 37 passes for 180 yards, and managed to avoid turnovers, thanks in part to a couple of fortuitous bounces. “I didn’t play my best game, and I think a lot of the guys here would say the same thing, but the bottom line is we found a way to win. I think it’s a testament to the guys’ character and the belief we have.”
Cornerback Nick Harper said the players looked to be sagging early on, perhaps because of the short week and the emotions spent Monday night in beating their chief AFC South rival.
“Before the game, guys were flat,” Harper said. “We tried everything in the book to pick guys up, but guys were down. You could tell we were flat when the game started. For that whole first half, I think we were flat. But in the second half, when we felt like our back was against the wall, everybody stepped up and did what we had to do.”
For much of the day, the game harkened back to the way the Titans played much of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, locked in a close struggle and often settling for field goals after red zone drives bogged down. Three times trips inside the Packers’ 20 yielded Bironas field goals of 31, 25 and 22 yards, sandwiched around one 3-yard touchdown run by Johnson to account for Tennessee’s scoring in regulation. The Titans’ lone touchdown answered the Packers’ only TD and was set up when LenDale White broke loose for 54 yards, setting the ball up at the Green Bay 20.
Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense was charged with keeping an explosive Packers offense at bay as much as possible. Rodgers found Greg Jennings for a 52-yard pass that the Packers turned in to a Mason Crosby field goal and later reached the end zone with a 5-yard pass to Donald Driver. Other than that, it was bend-but-don’t break for Tennessee’s defense much of the day, as Crosby hit from 25 and 38 yards in the second half, eventually tying the game with his final kick with 5:30 to play.
“We knew coming into this game they had a week off to prepare for us, and they were going to bring their ‘A’ game,” defensive tackle Tony Brown said. “They did some good things against us, but we made crucial plays when we needed to.”
Among those crucial plays were a sack and forced fumble from Jacob Ford that set up Bironas’ second field goal in the game, and later a Chris Hope interception in the end zone that ended a potential Packers scoring drive.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck, who left the game with cracked rib cartilage at one point, compared the game to a fight with the Titans perhaps not delivering the knockout punch, but going the distance and getting the decision.
“Anybody we line up against on Sunday, we can play with, whoever it is,” Bulluck said. “I don’t know if anyone in here is looking to go 16-0 or whatever it is, but no team is going to surprise, and we’re not going to surprise any teams. It’s going to be 12 rounds every time we take the field.”
Scaife took the victory that came in somewhat ugly fashion as a good sign of exactly what type of mettle the Titans have.
“Every good team that you see, that has been good throughout the years, wins those close games. That’s what signifies a good team,” Scaife said. “Even when they don’t play their best game, and their backs are against the wall, they always find a way to win. And that goes with every sport.”