If the Tennessee Titans have taught us anything thus far in 2012 it is that some timely defense is better than no defense at all.
Sunday’s 35-34 victory at Buffalo was just the latest example that the right play at the right time can overcome a whole lot of wrong.
Nothing about Jerry Gray’s unit stirs memories of the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. Heck, at this point some resemblance to the 2011 Titans, who finished tied for 18th in total defense, would be welcome. Yet even that seems highly unlikely.
It is not an accident that this team has allowed more points than any other this season. These Titans simply allow too many passes to be completed, miss too many tackles and don’t do near enough to make an opposing offense miserable.
Like a cellphone in church, though, they can make some noise when least expected, if the opposing offense is not careful.
Against the Bills, it was cornerback Jason McCourty who was in the right spot when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard graduate, made an admittedly dumb decision and threw right into coverage.
McCourty’s interception gave the ball to Tennessee offense 52 yards from the end zone with 2:57 to play. Seven plays later, Nate Washington caught a 15-yard pass for the game-winning touchdown.
The interception, the second of two takeaways on the day, came from the same defense that allowed points on five of six possessions (three touchdowns, two field goals) through the first three quarters. It gave up 382 yards, which actually was an improvement over its season average (421.8) coming into the contest.
That’s not winning football, except that Tennessee now has won two in a row and — given the crowd in the middle of the AFC standings — actually is in the thick of the playoff race as it approaches the halfway point of the season.
It’s the same defense that gave up a whopping 583 yards — not to mention 15 points in the final 18 seconds of regulation — against Detroit, yet when confronted with a fourth-and-1 in overtime it held its ground and closed the book on the season’s first victory.
A solid second quarter against Pittsburgh (no points, three first downs allowed in four possessions) capped by McCourty’s interception with 1:31 to play before halftime was enough to hold up despite the fact that the Steelers scored on the first three drives of the second half (a touchdown, two field goals) before it drove 53 yards into field goal position again. Pittsburgh missed that kick.
In both cases, just like in Buffalo, it was not a lot but it was just enough.
The key is to take advantage of the good moments because, after all, they are precious. The offense apparently has realized as much.
Tennessee forced the only two turnovers Sunday — defensive end Kamerion Wimbley had a sack and forced fumble in the third quarter — and both resulted in touchdowns.
Such opportunism has become a central element to whatever success this team has had.
The Titans scored a touchdown off Alterraun Verner’s interception against Detroit and a field goal off McCourty’s interception against Pittsburgh. They won both of those games, as they did when they capitalized on the Bills’ blunders.
They did nothing with Verner’s interception against the Chargers or interceptions by Robert Johnson and Jordan Babineaux against Minnesota. Both those games ended in defeat — probably not a coincidence.
That’s seven takeaways on the season. When they have resulted in points (even three) the Titans won. When they did nothing to change the score the Titans lost. There were no takeaways in the losses to New England and Houston.
Most of the time this is not a good defense, plain and simple. As long as the Titans make the most of those moments that it is good, though, they have a chance.