Safety Rashad Johnson jarred the ball loose from tight end A.J. Derby, thwarting a potential game-tying field-goal drive and securing a 13-10 victory for the Tennessee Titans (7-6) over the Denver Broncos (8-5) in Week 14. Here’s what we learned:
The Titans went 12 games without a forced fumble before accomplishing the feat twice in Sunday’s game. Justin Forsett coughed the ball up on his first carry with the Broncos, leading to an early field goal. Derby’s fumble dashed Denver’s hopes of a dramatic comeback attempt with a minute remaining after the Broncos had captured the momentum in the fourth quarter. The first-place Titans’ reward for passing their stiffest test of the season? A brutal battle at Kansas City versus the 10-3 Chiefs before squaring off with the Jaguars and Texans to close out the season.
The bye week did wonders for DeMarco Murray’s legs, as the Titans jumped out to a commanding 138-12 halftime lead in rushing yards. Taking advantage of Marcus Mariota’s scrambling ability and timely designed runs, their 26 rushing attempts were the second-most by any team in the first half this season. They ran more plays (19) on one second-quarter field-goal drive than the Broncos ran in the first 28 minutes of the game. The Titans were fortunate that penalties didn’t come back to haunt, as a pair of illegal Delanie Walker pick plays in the red zone costs the team a combined seven points.1. The Titans went 12 games without a forced fumble before accomplishing the feat twice in Sunday’s game. Justin Forsett jersey coughed the ball up on his first carry with the Broncos, leading to an early field goal. Derby’s fumble dashed Denver’s hopes of a dramatic comeback attempt with a minute remaining after the Broncos had captured the momentum in the fourth quarter. The first-place Titans’ reward for passing their stiffest test of the season? A brutal battle at Kansas City versus the 10-3 Chiefs before squaring off with the Jaguars and Texans to close out the season.
The Broncos’ loss drops them to 8-5, leaving the AFC’s No. 6 seed wide open. If Gary Kubiak’s squad misses the playoffs, they can pinpoint the run game on both sides of the ball as the primary culprits. Their championship defense allowed 140 or more yards on the ground just once last season — in mid-September. It has already happened five times this year, including 167 yards in just over two quarters of Sunday’s shellacking. Their rushing offense has regressed from mediocre to non-existent. Averaging fewer than 3.0 yards per carry since C.J. Anderson’s season-ending injury, rookie Devontae Booker took a backseat to a fading Forsett in the veteran’s Denver debut.
Riley Dixon’s fake-punt conversion late in the third quarter felt like a turning point for a Broncos offense that failed to cross midfield until just before halftime. Trevor Siemian found Demaryius Thomas deep down the sideline on the next play, then quickly snapped Denver’s 0-for-17 streak on third-down attempts. Despite a series of cheap jerseys and clutch Thomas catches and a career-high tying 11 receptions from Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos couldn’t crack the goal line on two of three crucial possessions near the end zone. Overcoming a leaky secondary that has struggled mightily versus uptempo spread attacks in the fourth quarter of late, the Titans’ defense made key plays when it mattered.
Tennessee wideout Harry Douglas should expect a fine after going low to Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris’ knee away from the ball. Fellow Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib went after Douglas on the next play, starting a fracas between the two teams. Harris returned shortly thereafter, avoiding a major injury scare and getting away with a pair of pass interferences in the end zone.
Far from the primary problem on offense, Siemian has had a promising first season as Broncos starting quarterback. Playing through a foot injury that limited his pocket movement behind a shaky offensive line, Siemian deserved a better fate. Afforded no semblance of a ground attack, Siemian still had his team in position for the win only to watch Bennie Fowler drop the potential go-ahead touchdown.
Although the Titans had no semblance of an intermediate aerial attack against a shutdown secondary, Mariota played better than his 88 passing yards and 30-percent completion rate suggests. His legs and deft passing touch were major factors in Tennessee’s dominant first half, and he lost a three-yard Rishard Matthews touchdown to a penalty on Delanie Walker. As well as Mariota has played of late, we’d like to see more of a killer instinct from the play-callers when the Titans are nursing a second-half lead.