The helmet of Tennessee Titans defensive end Jason Jones helped push the Denver Broncos to their first touchdown. His left hand, however, halted their last drive.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Broncos were driving toward a possible game-tying field goal. Then Jones deflected Kyle Orton’s pass, which Will Witherspoon intercepted to preserve a 17-14 victory for the Titans on Sunday at LP Field.
“I beat my guard inside and Kyle Orton stepped up, I put my hand up. I got my left hand on it,” Jones said. “I didn’t even know until I heard the crowd roar. I turned around and Spoon had the ball in his hand. The game was over.”
The big play by Jones helped him atone for his earlier mistake — a roughing the passer personal foul 15-yard penalty that aided the Broncos’ first score in the opening quarter.
Jones wasn’t alone in overcoming adversity. The Titans committed a season-high 11 penalties for 80 yards but still rallied for their second straight win.
“It says we are willing to overcome our own [faults],” Witherspoon said. “It comes back to 'live for the next down, not for what already has happened in the past.' ”
In their first two games, yellow flags weren’t much of an issue forthe Titans (2-1). They were penalized six times last week against Baltimore and seven times at Jacksonville. By halftime against Denver, however, they had already picked up six penalties.
By comparison, the Broncos (1-2) were flagged just once for 15 yards in the entire contest.
“Officiating is officiating,” Jones said. “You can’t fight against the refs. Once they make their call, it’s a wrap.”
On two occasions, holding penalties wiped out gains by running back Chris Johnson, who finished with just 21 yards for another sub-par outing. Leroy Harris was called for holding on a Johnson four-yard run, which would have been enough for a first down. Later in the period, tight end Craig Stevens was caught for holding, negating a 12-yard run by Johnson. The scamper would have been Johnson’s longest run of the season.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” Johnson said. “In the first two games not having the big ones, and then starting out this game with a couple of nice runs in the beginning. ... It’s always tough. But we have to hold our head up, and we got the victory.”
Like Jones, Stevens made up for his miscue — in a big way. Trailing 14-10 with less than seven minutes to go, the tight end caught a pass from Matt Hasselbeck over the middle and turned it into a 58-yard gain.
The lone catch surpassed his previous career-high receiving mark of 29 yards in a game and set up the Titans’ game-winning score. Three plays later, Hasselbeck dumped a four-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham.
“I knew I probably wasn’t going to outrun [Broncos safety Brian Dawkins]. Most importantly, it was secure the ball,” Stevens said of his run after the catch. “I did not want the guy to come up behind me and get the ball from me. I put two hands on the ball, fell forward and ultimately we got a touchdown on that drive, which is great.”
Defensively, the Titans had several offsides penalties, including back-to-back flags at the start of the fourth quarter. The early jumps by Akeem Ayers and Sen’Derrick Marks gave the Broncos a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. But the Titans didn’t let the mental errors sink them.
Instead, they stopped the Broncos on fourth-and-1 as Derrick Morgan kept running back Willis McGahee out of the end zone.
“We know throughout the game we hurt ourselves with penalties,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We know we got to fix that. We got to keep our emotions in check at times. ... The good thing is that you know that they put all that behind them, got the goal-line stand, which was a great, great job there.”