There were some boos.
Early on, the sellout crowd at LP Field voiced its disapproval for Mike Munchak’s decision not to kick a field goal. Increasingly as the game progressed, that unhappy sound followed each and every Chris Johnson carry, most of which ended about where they started.
Ultimately, though, all of that was drowned out by the splash of a Gatorade bucket that spilled over Munchak in the closing seconds of his first victory as Tennessee Titans head coach. An improved defensive performance and an expanded base of offensive playmakers allowed the Titans to handle the Baltimore Ravens 26-13 Sunday before a crowd of 69,143 and to even their record at 1-1.
“I think the fans weren’t quite sure what kind of team we had, and … I don’t think the Ravens knew what kind of team we were because of what they watched on tape last week,” Munchak said. “There wasn’t much tape to watch. I think [Sunday] we found out a little bit more about ourselves.
“A win obviously helps you feel better about a lot of things as far as what you’re doing.”
Unlike a week earlier at Jacksonville, the Titans remained resolute in their intention to get the ball in the hands of Johnson.
The record-setting running back carried it seven times in the first quarter, eight times in the fourth and four each in the other two. None of his 23 rushes went for more than seven yards and all told, they added up to just 53 yards.
After having missed all of training camp and the preseason because of a contract holdout, he now has 77 rushing yards on 33 attempts — a 2.3-yard average — and not one carry for 10 yards or more through two games.
It was the passing game that provided most of the pop as Tennessee rolled up 432 yards of total offense — the franchise’s highest total ever against the Ravens. Kenny Britt caught nine passes for 135 yards and a touchdown and Nate Washington added 99 yards on seven receptions.
“[The booing] didn’t really bother me at all,” Johnson said. “Just playing a game like this and the type of player I am … just the whole situation of going through the offseason, there’s things you’ve got to accept and play through.”
It was his backup, Javon Ringer, and his fullback, Quinn Johnson, who came through with two of the most meaningful plays, and each did so when Munchak — again — opted against a field goal try. Whereas he chose to punt from the Baltimore 37 early, twice in the second half he left the offense on the field.
“I give Munch a lot of credit — he’s calm under pressure,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “… It just seems like he doesn’t panic, he has a plan and he’s prepared.
“I’ve been in games with [the Ravens] where we’ve gone for it on fourth-and-1 and they stopped us. … I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone get a fourth-and-1 on them.”
Tennessee did so twice.
Ringer, in his first action since the preseason opener, broke a 10-10 tie and scored the game-winning touchdown 3:50 into the second half with a 10-yard run on fourth-and-1. Hasselbeck faked a handoff to Johnson — Quinn, that is — and then pitched it to Ringer.
“They kind of bit on the dive to the right,” Ringer (five rushes, 21 yards) said. “I just had to make one guy miss. … It felt good — especially going against the Baltimore Ravens, a really big challenge for us.”
The Titans effectively put the game out of reach with 3:11 to play when Hasselbeck completed a 13-yard pass to Johnson — Quinn again. That eventually led to Rob Bironas’ fourth field goal — in five attempts — and kept the ball away from Baltimore 26 seconds remained.
“My only thought was, ‘If it comes to me, catch it and get a first down,’” Quinn Johnson said.
Tennessee’s defense had pretty much one thought from the start of the game all the way to the finish: stop the run.
After having allowed 163 rushing yards and nearly 40 minutes of possession time to the Jaguars, the Titans held Baltimore’s Ray Rice to 43 yards on 13 attempts. They also intercepted two passes, sacked quarterback Joe Flacco three times and allowed just three third-down conversions on 10 attempts.
“We wanted to tackle the ball carrier and not let him run for touchdowns — that was the hidden secret thought right there,” defensive end Dave Ball (four tackles, one sack) said. “…Just the fact that we were able to turn it around, we were able to change, we were able to fix our mistakes. To me, that says a lot about both our coaches and our players.”
Now they just have to get Johnson — Chris, of course — going in the right direction.
“I know he’s been unbelievably productive here, but I think — in fairness to him — he just got back,” Hasselbeck said. “I know it would be really tough for me if I just showed up a few weeks ago. He’s a great player. He’s going to be a focal point of our offense, for sure, but I think we’re really just focusing on the opponent and what we can do.
“If big plays come from our playmakers like him, they come.”
If not, they might just come from backups or role players.