Johnson payoff is win for Titans

Johnson payoff is win for Titans
By KEVIN WEAKS
Messenger Sports
NASHVILLE — Chris Johnson kept getting the Tennessee Titans close enough to cash in.
His teammates finally made the running back’s hard work pay off.
Johnson took off through the left side for 34 yards with 5:57 to play, and the Titans scored the game-winning touchdown seven plays later for a 23-17 win in the rain and cold at LP Field Sunday afternoon.
The win made Johnson’s best day of the season worthwhile and kept the Titans on the heels of Houston in the AFC South race.
Johnson rushed for 190 yards on 23 carries, that run in the fourth quarter his longest of the day.
“I think it all came together,” Titans’ head coach Mike Munchak said. “You could see that from the sideline that there was, obviously, some good blocking going on and obviously good running. When you have 190 yards, good things are happening. I wish we could have turned that into more points than we did, but that was encouraging to watch and it helped us a lot, especially on a rainy day when you really have to have the running game working.”
Matt Hasselbeck, rolling right and then stepping back to give his target time to get open, threw to a wide-open Damian Williams in the back of the end zone with 3:01 to play in the game for the go-ahead score.
The scoring play, which passed its replay test when the officials determined Williams did, indeed, get both feet down inbounds, finished a good Titans’ drive in a good way, Tennessee going 80 yards in 10 plays and 4:13.
The Titans’ defense then clinched it when linebacker Colin McCarthy picked off a Josh Freeman pass — the sloppy game’s ninth turnover — with 2:19 to play.
For good measure, Johnson ran off left tackle again, this time for 24 yards, eventually setting up Rob Bironas for a 38-yard field goal with 1:44 to play.
“It felt good to finally get out there and get to some open space and make some plays,” Johnson said. “The offensive line out there blocked great. It was just giving me room to run and make plays, and the receivers did a good job getting some blocks down the field and things like that. I feel like a lot of the running plays we ran, we executed well.”
Tampa Bay made it interesting late as Freeman led his team to the Titans’ 24-yard-line before fumbling the snap and on a fourth-and-one with 46 seconds to play.
In a game marred by turnovers — the miserable weather was the biggest culprit in the two teams’ ball-handling troubles — Tennessee kept making big plays only to follow up with a big mistake.
Despite 11 plays of 10 or more yards, including a 100-yard, two-player kickoff return for a score, Tennessee trailed 17-10 going into the fourth quarter.
“The turnovers were out of character for us, and for both teams really,” Hasselbeck said. “The ball was on the ground a lot and you have to weather the storm like that. One thing we talked about, that our coaches talked about a lot this week, was finding a way to win the game. It wasn’t pretty, it was pretty ugly at times, but we found a way to win. I’ll take the win, despite the sloppiness, the rain.”
The Titans turned the ball over four times, twice in the third quarter alone. Hasselbeck’s second interception, coming just under three minutes into the third, was a pick-six as Aqib Talib went 27 yards for the score.
Tennessee began to turn things around at the end of the third quarter, however, as Johnson put the Titans across midfield on a 25-yard run that ultimately led to a 52-yard field goal by Bironas at 11:57 to make it 17-13.
Early on, it was Tennessee making Tampa Bay play catch-up.
The Titans struck with the game’s first big play, coming immediately after Tampa Bay grabbed a 3-0 lead on Conner Barth’s 43-yard field goal with 8:02 to play.
The ensuing kick saw Marc Mariani take the ball and run left 16 yards before handing off to Tommie Campbell, who then sprinted 84 yards for a 7-3 Titans’ lead.
Bironas gave Tennessee a 10-3 edge on a 31-yard field goal with 3:52 to play in the half, but the Buccaneers then capitalized on a Javon Ringer fumble with a three-yard TD pass from Freeman to Mike Williams with 13 seconds to play in the half.
Freeman’s stats were on par with Hasselbeck’s, the Bucs’ QB completing 18-of-33 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown.
Published in The Messenger 11.28.11

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