SAN FRANCISCO — The Tennessee Titans have arrived at the 2009 season more than just fashionably late. But Sunday’s 34-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park showed that the Titans have indeed made their arrival this season.
For a team that started the year 0-6, a modest two-game winning streak might not look like much, but the Titans will take it.
“This is more what we’re about. … No one wanted our season to go this way, but that’s how it went. But there’s more football to play and we’re gonna play it all out,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
The victory also helped stifle the Titans’ misery on the West Coast, as they won for just second time in 11 tries there under Jeff Fisher's tenure.
For two games now, the Titans have employed the formula that worked last year, getting pressure with four sacks and winning the turnover battle with four takeaways Sunday against 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Offensively, they ran the football with Chris Johnson, who gained 135 yards with two touchdowns and again got mistake-free play at the quarterback position. Vince Young was solid for the second straight week, going 12 of 19 for 172 yards plus one rushing touchdown.
“We learned from our mistakes we were making early in the season and in order to turn this whole thing around, we had to start playing a more physical type of ball,” said receiver Justin Gage, who did his part with four catches for 97 yards, including a leaping 33-yard catch that set up the go-ahead touchdown that Johnson scored on fourth-and-1 from the San Francisco 2.
Turnovers sparked the Titans throughout the game, as Tennessee turned four takeaways into 24 points.
Rod Hood’s second interception in the past two games got things rolling for the Titans. Hood’s pickoff came after Michael Griffin tipped a pass for Michael Crabtree up into the air. Hood raced 43 yards to the San Francisco 24.
“He made a great play. We were in a zone and Griff drove on it and made a great play, and I was able to capitalize on it,” Hood said.
It led to Young’s 7-yard touchdown run that tied gave Tennessee a brief 10-3 lead.
The 49ers responded, however, with a pair of touchdown drives of their own in the second quarter to take a 17-10 lead by halftime. The go-ahead score came when Jason Hill got free and a scrambling Smith found him in the end zone from 12 yards out with 20 seconds before intermission.
During the losing streak, such plays might have snowballed. But on Sunday, as they had against Jacksonville the previous week, the Titans showed the needed fortitude to not only fight back, but make the necessary plays to turn the game around.
That included a sack of Smith and forced fumble from Jacob Ford that was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but overturned on replay with the Titans getting a recovery from Keith Bulluck.
That miscue was cashed in as the tying touchdown as Johnson bulled in from a yard out to make the score 17-all.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Titans had two interceptions that help put the game away.
The Titans took the lead, 24-20, on Johnson’s go-ahead score with 7:11 to play. On fourth-and-inches just outside the 1, the Titans opted for a curious call with Young running the option pitch to Johnson, who was nearly tackled at the 5. But somehow, Johnson sidestepped a tackler and squirted into the end zone.
For him, it was about making the play that was needed at the time, something that has become more contagious with the Titans in their reversal.
“I just had to make a play,” Johnson said. “I was thinking like Kobe Bryant or LeBron [James], they always make plays. I went in there and made a play.”
After that, it was Chris Hope’s turn, as he intercepted a Smith pass that led to Rob Bironas’ 28-yard field goal and a seven-point lead.
The clincher came when Cortland Finnegan took advantage of a ball tipped into the air by Vincent Fuller, and raced untouched 39 yards for Tennessee’s final touchdown and a 34-20 lead with 2:51 to go.
San Francisco got a consolation touchdown in the final minute from Hill, but when the Titans recovered the onside kick, Tennessee had its second win in as many weeks and a sense that the renewed confidence was not just a mirage.
“Winning kind of gives you a different attitude, but we didn’t have a poor attitude before. Guys are making plays and playing with confidence,” center Kevin Mawae said.
Coincidentally or not, the turnaround has come after Young was reinserted into the lineup at quarterback for Kerry Collins.
“We believe in each other, and the coaches have the confidence in us and our defense is making big plays,” Young said.