There were breathless moments born of ingenuity and individual excellence. Lots of them.
Then there was nearly an equal number kicks to the gut that left the Tennessee Titans and the sellout crowd at LP Field figuratively gasping for air.
In the wake of an unprecedented array of big plays and significant momentum swings the moment finally arrived. Everyone held their breath when the Detroit Lions elected to attempt a fourth-and-1 rather than kick a field goal to tie and extend a contest already in overtime.
Then came the collective sigh, not when defensive tackle Jurrell Casey shot through the line and foiled quarterback Shaun Hill’s try at a sneak but only after the referee declared that, upon further review, the spot was correct and the “game is over.”
With that, the Titans not only had their first victory of the season but one for the ages, 44-41.
“I don’t know if they didn’t mean to snap it or there was a miscommunication, but it seemed the guard who was over me didn’t move,” Casey said. “The center snapped it before anybody was ready and it came out in our favor.
“I cleanly got him down.”
He was right. The Lions never intended to snap the ball. With 6:41 to go in the extra period there was time, in the event of a tie, to get the ball back and score the decisive points.
After all, when they scored 14 points in the final 18 seconds of regulation, the last seven on Titus Young’s 46-yard touchdown reception as time expired. So it was clear they did not need much on the clock.
“We were going to try to draw them offsides,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “The crowd was loud and we said if they didn’t jump we were going to take the timeout. And the ball ended up getting snapped. We need to — obviously — make sure all 11 guys get the calls right there.”
Under normal circumstances a team that set an NFL record with five touchdowns on plays of 60 yards or more — as the Titans did — would be the talk of the league. That stat, however, does not begin to say it all in regard to this contest.
The fourth quarter alone featured two ties, two lead changes and 45 combined points. There was a successful onside kick and Hail Mary pass. Along the way a kickoff, a punt and a fumble all were returned for touchdowns.
“You can say that the team you saw [Sunday] is the team that we said we were,” linebacker Akeem Ayers said. “Despite the overtime and all the crazy stuff that happened it was the way we played — the intensity, the effort.”
Having scored just 23 points through the first two weeks of the season Tennessee (1-2) put up 20 by halftime, when it led by 11. The first touchdown was a 65-yard punt return by Tommie Campbell, who got the ball on a long lateral from return specialist Darius Reynaud. Jared Cook’s 61-yard touchdown catch was next.
After Detroit (1-2) scored 18 straight points to open the second half and go up by seven, Reynaud returned a kickoff a franchise-record 105 yards for a game-tying touchdown. Within the next 5:58 the Titans led by 14 after a spectacular catch-and-run by wide receiver Nate Washington for a 71-yard touchdown and Alterraun Verner’s 72-yard fumble return.
That’s when things got really interesting.
Hill replaced Matthew Stafford, who sustained a leg injury on Verner’s return, and drove the Lions 80 yards to a touchdown in seven plays and less than a minute. Detroit recovered an onside kick and took two shots at the end zone. On the second, Ayers got up and got a hand on the ball but deflected it to Young, who fell forward into the end zone and forced overtime.
“I got my whole hand on it,” Ayers said.
The result breathed new life into a season that had the potential to fall flat given that it started with a pair of lopsided losses.
Quarterback Jake Locker threw for a career-high 378 yards without being sacked or intercepted. It was performance that lessened the consternation over running back Chris Johnson’s continuing struggles (14 carries, a season-high 24 yards).
The defense, although it surrendered a lot of points showed vast improvement on third down, where it allowed three conversions on 12 tries. That had a lot to do with the fact that the Lions settled for three field goals after they got inside the Titans’ 30. Plus, the last stop led to the fourth down play – and one final stop.
“We needed this one, and to get a win like this was crazy, Verner said. “It seemed like you covered every single scenario that you could possibly cover in a game – being up, being down, overtime and every single situation.
“… It was definitely the craziest game I’ve ever played in. It was wild, definitely.”