The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The Tennessee Titans once again flew in the face of that cliché Sunday, holding off the Oakland Raiders 13-9 to improve to 5-2 this season.
Yet, for the Titans, plenty of things, especially on offense, remain in need of repair.
The Titans used a victory formula that has become very familiar this season, somehow scoring just enough points on offense despite continual red-zone breakdowns, then asking the defense to stave off a late challenge to preserve the win.
Sunday against the Raiders, the Titans reached the end zone just once — on rookie Chris Henry’s 24-yard touchdown — to go with a pair of field goals from Rob Bironas after Titans drives stalled at the Oakland 17 and the 5.
“I don’t think we like it, but it’s making us very tough mentally and physically,” said safety Chris Hope, whose fourth-quarter interception on a deep pass to Jerry Porter was one of the game-saving plays for Tennessee. “Throughout the week, we prepare for that. All I can say is that when our offense plays to the potential that it has, because it has great potential, we can be a scary team.”
The only scare the Titans offense provided Sunday was the Halloween mask running back LenDale White donned at the start of his postgame interview. White did his part offensively, rushing for a career high 133 yards on the heels of last week’s 104 yards, but Tennessee had little else to offer offensively.
Vince Young, playing for the first time since injuring his right quadriceps muscle two weeks ago at Tampa Bay, had an unspectacular day, passing for just 42 yards while completing 6 of 14. The 42 yards is the lowest total of Young’s career in a game he has started for the Titans.
The quarterback, who also had just 11 yards rushing on seven carries, didn’t have much help in the passing game. Tight end Ben Troupe dropped what would have been a sure touchdown in the corner of the end zone in the second quarter.
“There are opportunities for plays to be made,” Troupe said. “Plays not made in the first, second and third can come back and bite you in the fourth. … I always put it on me. It was a little farther than I thought. As long as my arms are, I extended them as far as I could and didn’t get it in. That’s one of those opportunities we need to take advantage of.”
Another of those chances came in the fourth quarter with the Titans leading 10-9. Travis LaBoy’s sack, forced fumble and recovery gave the Titans the ball at the Raiders’ 9, with a golden opportunity to perhaps put the game away.
After a first-down run by White, Quinton Ganther and Roydell Williams dropped back-to-back catchable balls from Young, forcing Tennessee to settle for the second of Bironas’ field goals, a week after he had made an NFL-record eight to bail the Titans out last week in Houston.
“It’s just us,” Young said. “Dropped balls, missed communications, all kind of things as an offense. We have to get it together. Thank God, we have a great kicker.”
On Sunday, the Titans were even more thankful for their defense, which did not allow a touchdown to the Raiders and held the Raiders to just 92 yards rushing and 143 yards passing. The Tennessee defense harassed Daunte Culpepper into five sacks and batted five passes down at the line of scrimmage.
Tennessee’s defense was eager to redeem itself from fourth quarter failures the previous two weeks. Tampa Bay had driven for a game-winning field goal two weeks ago, and a fourth-quarter meltdown at Houston nearly cost the Titans what looked like an easy victory through three quarters last week.
On Sunday, the defensive players were determined not to allow such a thing again. After the offense went three-and-out after Hope’s interception, the Raiders, who did not make it into the red zone all game, had one final shot after a 27-yard pass to Ronald Curry gave them the ball at the Titans 26 at the two-minute warning. However, a sack by Albert Haynesworth and two straight incompletions sealed another ugly win for Tennessee.
“We talked about it going into the fourth quarter,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “We like situations when the game is on us and we can get it done. We took it upon ourselves to stop them in the fourth quarter. It came down to us, and we stepped up.”
Linebacker Keith Bulluck is hopeful the Titans can win without such a slim margin for error, but after enduring struggles in seasons past, he will take a 5-2 start regardless of how it happens.
“It’s starting to seem like a trend, and I don’t think that should become the latest trend,” he said of the Titans’ scoring struggles. “We still have a lot of football left to play. We’re 5-2 with nine games left to play in the season. I think we have plenty of time to get it working.
“A win is a win. This is a tough league. I’ve been 4-12 before; that’s a long season. We’ve started off 5-2 and that’s great regardless of how you get them, a win is a win.”