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VOL. 37 | NO. 37 | Friday, September 13, 2013

From ‘here we go again’ to a big win

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New Titan Bernard Pollard helped flip Tennessee’s reputation for giving into adversity – and losing season openers – during his team’s win at Pittsburgh. Here he stops Steeler back Isaac Redman.

-- Ap Photo/Gene J. Puskar

The Tennessee Titans have made plenty of changes in the off-season on both sides of the football, and many were on display in Sunday’s season opener at Pittsburgh where the Titans stunned the favored Steelers 16-9.

It marked the first time in three years of Mike Munchak’s reign as head coach that the Titans have started 1-0.

Yes, it’s a small sample to analyze, but the change does appear to be evident compared to last year’s Titans, when everything came crashing down in a 6-10 finish.

Looking back on it now, it appears more that the Titans’ 2011 mark of 9-7 following the lockout was simply fool’s gold – a false positive – that managed to mask a number of problems left behind when Munchak inherited a mess from Jeff Fisher.

The Titans’ biggest improvement?

Certainly the offensive line has been upgraded with the additions of Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack and Rob Turner.

A defense that was deplorable a year ago led the way on Sunday. The unit sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and held Pittsburgh to 32 yards rushing and, unfortunately for the home team, knocked three Steelers out or the season with injuries.

Those two units helped overcome Darius Reynaud’s inexcusable blunder – stepping back into the end zone after fielding the opening kickoff put the Titans in a 2-0 hole.

Your reaction, like everyone else’s, was probably somewhere between “Are you kidding me?” to “Here we go again. Same old Titans.”

But that play, as awful as it was, might have given a hint as to the biggest change for Tennessee this season. Attitude.

Had Reynaud’s blunder happened in 2012, there’s little doubt it would have been the first chapter on the way to another 30-point loss.

The Titans were on the ropes after the Steelers took the free kick and marched inside the Tennessee 5-yard line. But then, whether it was luck or an aggressive play, Steelers running back Ike Redman fumbled into the end zone. Moise Fokou recovered, preventing the Titans from going down 9-0 in the early minutes of the game.

Last year, falling behind early was the Titans’ regular recipe for defeat. But on Sunday, the Titans showed some resolve, gained some confidence and by the time the game was over, showed some swagger that was rarely evident in 2012.

“They drove the ball down, but our defense didn’t give up,” running back Chris Johnson said afterward. “I think it kind of helped us out. I think that would have put us down 9-0, so that helped us out.”

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, one of the ringleaders of the Titans’ defensive success on Sunday, even fired a warning shot at the Titans’ next opponent, the Houston Texans.

“It’s a conference game, and we’re gonna go out there make sure we put our foot up their a--,” Casey said. “That’s what we’re gonna do. Not holding back at all against whoever we face. That’s what we’re gonna do all season long.”

While that might be a little strong, given that it is only a one-game sample, it does mark the first time in a long time that the Titans defense could even legitimately make such a bold statement and keep a straight face.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner took a more tactful approach.

“It was great for morale. We kind of got a little small taste of what our team can do,” he explained. “There’s still a lot of little stuff we need to clean up. We’ve got to build off of it because we’ve got Houston next week. It’s got to be a short memory, because we’ve got to get ready for them.”

The next few weeks will reveal whether the opening victory was the beginning of a real sea change for the Titans or just a small ripple that ends up being another short-lived false positive.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.