On the same day Frank Wycheck was surprised with the news that he would be inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Titans paid homage to the Music City Miracle.
Darius Reynaud’s throwback pass to Tommie Campbell for a 65-yard touchdown on a punt return stirred up memories of Wycheck’s lateral to Kevin Dyson in the 1999 playoffs. And that was just the start.
The special teams weren’t flawless but two returns for scores, including the longest kickoff return in franchise history, breathed life into the Titans at crucial moments of a bizarre 44-41 overtime victory against the Detroit Lions on Sunday at LP Field.
“Not just scores but exciting,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “Those were plays that ignite a sideline and ignite a team. They were at big points in the game when we needed that and we were able to feed off of it.”
On Monday, the Titans coaches showed film of the Lions’ special teams tendencies and noticed gaps in their coverage. So they implemented a play called “Maroon 6,” which Reynaud, Campbell, and the rest of the unit practiced all week. Late in the first quarter, they pulled the trick out of the bag.
“When he called it, my heart just started pounding,” Reynaud said.
After fielding a punt, Reynaud ran a couple yards before the lefty stopped and tossed the ball back across the field. On the other end was a wide-open Campbell, who raced 65 yards untouched down the sideline.
“Tommie kept emphasizing to me don’t throw it high, keep it to his numbers or below,” Reynaud said. “We practiced on it real good and all I had to do was give him a good ball in the game. I know he’s fast. I know he’s going to take it to the house after he catches it.”
Reynaud wasn’t finished with electrifying plays.
After the Lions (1-2) scored 18 unanswered points and jumped in front 27-20 with 6:53 left, he once again sparked the Titans (1-2).
Reynaud opted to take the ensuing kickoff five yards out of his own end zone. The move paid off as the speedy 5-foot-9, 201-pounder jetted to the right sideline. Behind a bevy of blockers, including a huge takedown by Taylor Thompson, Reynaud went untouched 105 yards in 12 seconds for the game-tying score.
“I knew it was going to come down to one-on-one with that guy on the outside,” Thompson, a 6-foot-6, 268-pound rookie tight end, said. “I ran full-speed at him and he didn’t move. So I ran him over. It was an amazing feeling. We were down seven at the time, it was a huge play for us.”
But the Titans had their fair share of special teams snafus.
Kicker Rob Bironas was 3-of-5 on field goals and left points on the field when he sent two 40-yard plus attempts in the third quarter wide left. It marked only the second time in his eight-year career he had missed two field goals (he was 1-of-3 against Baltimore on Nov. 12, 2006).
The veteran, however, overcame both misses to nail the game-winner from 26 yards out in overtime.
He wouldn’t have had to trot back out if the Titans could have corralled a late onside kick.
The Lions cut the lead to 41-34 with 18 seconds left and were hoping for a miracle. Their prayers were answered when the Titans couldn’t grab Jason Hanson’s bouncer to the right side. The ball tipped off Titan’s receiver Damian Williams’ hand and into Amari Spievey’s arms. Two plays later, Titus Young snagged the game-tying touchdown on a unbelievable Hail Mary.
“I just misjudged the ball,” Williams said. “I waited for the second bounce. I thought it was going left and it went right and they recovered it. My initial thought [after his mistake] was I had to be the person to win the game.”
Instead, the defense provided the last-second heroics with a game-ending stand on fourth-and-1. Without the play of the special teams, though, the Titans would still be searching for their first win.
“We needed that,” Reynaud said. “The whole week of practice, [safety Jordan Babineaux] came in the meeting room and said, ‘The special teams have to be special this week. We’re going to need you guys this big.’ We played a big part in this game.”