This time there were no claims of dirty play from the opposition.
Penalized a minimum of eight times in each of their first four games, the Tennessee Titans cut that number in half during Sunday’s 34-27 victory over Dallas.
Not only did they commit just four penalties, which cost them 40 yards, they benefited greatly from two of the 12 violations called against the Cowboys, which occurred in succession at a critical juncture.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call against tackle Marc Columbo after Dallas tied it 27-27 with 4:30 to play was enforced to the tune of 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. Titans’ kick returner Marc Mariani fielded at the kick at the 16 and returned it 73 yards to the Cowboys’ 10 where he was tackled by kicker David Buehler. An additional five yards was added due to a facemask call against Buehler on the tackle.
Columbo’s penalty was for excessive celebration because he rolled on the ground, an act that he claimed was accidental.
“You can’t go to the ground celebrating like that,” Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher said Monday. “It was huge – clearly we capitalized on a miscue. Like I said (Sunday) night, that was a huge mistake at that point in the game.
“They just tied the game, it wasn’t like they just made a play at the end of the game to win.”
Even as he defended the officials’ decision at that moment, and even with the greatly reduced number of calls against his own team, Fisher was not about to give the referee and his crew a complete pass.
Two of Tennessee’s four penalties were holding calls against Fernando Velasco, who started at left guard in place of Eugene Harris, who was out with an ankle injury.
“He had two holding penalties, which you kind of wonder sometime – one clearly should not have been called, the second one,” Fisher said.
Still, based on the number of flags in relation to previous weeks, this performance was an unqualified success for the Titans.
The last time they were penalized so few times was Dec. 20, 2009 against Miami, the 14th game of last season. The last time they had so few yards marked off against them was the week before that.
Each of the last two opponents, the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, accused the Titans of dirty play and of trying to instigate actions after the whistle.
Tennessee was penalized eight times each in its first two victories and 10 or more in its two defeats.
“It was a big point of emphasis throughout the week and in meetings,” Fisher said. “We had one neutral zone infraction, but it was offsetting so the numbers came down. There were two others – I think we should have really been guilty of just two penalties and I disagree with two of the calls.”
* Linebacker Jamie Winborn, a starter through the first four weeks of the season, was waived prior to the game to make room for Gerald McRath, who returned from a four-game suspension.
“It was a very, very difficult decision,” Fisher said. “There were a lot of factors involved, I’ll just say that. With the roster, the way the roster’s shaped, special teams, the way things went down last week—we had a good conversation, I’ll just leave it at that.”
McRath started in Winborn’s place and was credited with seven tackles, the third-highest total on the team.
• With Justin Gage injured and out of the lineup, rookie wide receiver Damian Williams saw his first significant playing time on offense. He caught two passes for 30 yards.
“He gets open, he’s natural at it and he played well,” Fisher said. “We’re going to try and keep him on the field.”
• The victory over Dallas was the Titans’ 11th straight against teams from the NFC. They have beaten the Giants and Cowboys this season and look to extend that streak Oct. 24 when Philadelphia comes to town.