Just when it appeared things might get out of hand, one of the Tennessee Titans finally put his hands to good use.
In so doing, linebacker Zach Brown set a trend that quickly caught on. Brown and return specialist Darius Reynaud combined for four touchdowns on returns as the Titans ended the 2012 season with a 38-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
Brown took back a pair of interceptions and Reynaud scored twice on punt returns as Tennessee (6-10) turned a 14-7 deficit into a 35-14 lead in a span of 4:45 in which the offense never left the sideline. It was the first time in NFL history a team scored four consecutive touchdowns on returns.
“You could see the sideline just explode and the momentum shift,” Brown said of his first interception. “It was the domino effect. Everybody just started playing and started making plays and doing their job.”
The second-round draft pick out of North Carolina, was one of a handful of Titans who missed opportunities to make plays in the first 15 minutes.
He, fellow linebacker Akeem Ayers and cornerback Jason McCourty all failed to come up with interceptions despite the fact that they had both hands on the ball. Even worse, wide receiver Nate Washington dropped a well-thrown deep ball on Tennessee’s second offensive possession and Kenny Britt added one of his own.
“We knew [Jaguars quarterback] Chad Henne was giving us opportunities and that we had to take advantage of them,” McCourty said. “We got to the sideline and I told the [defensive] line it was on us in the back end and we had to make some plays. When we did that, we were able to get a good lead and hold on to it.”
Jacksonville led by seven and had the ball at the Titans’ 21 when Brown stepped in front of Marcedes Lewis, actually held on to the ball and raced untouched 79 yards for a game-tying score with 1:48 to play in the first half.
Reynaud then went 69 yards with a punt in the final minute of the half and followed with an 81-yard punt return two minutes in the second half. Two plays later, Brown caught a ball tipped by Tommie Campbell and ran it back 30 yards for another score.
“When you start making plays it’s contagious,” coach Mike Munchak said. “You make one and you feel you can make another and another. Just like when you don’t make them, and it seemed like that’s how this game started — that we were going to miss out on opportunities. … We didn’t let that get us down. We came back and took advantage of the opportunities as they came right before halftime and never looked back.”
Reynaud became the first player in franchise history with two punt returns for scores in a single game, and Brown became the franchise’s first player since Ken Houston, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, in 1971 to score twice on interception returns in the same game.
Jacksonville (2-14) finally got into the act with 2:16 to play when Mike Harris blocked a punt and returned it 19 yards for the game’s final points. By that time, though, the outcome was assured.
“I am not sure how that one got out of control like it did, but it did,” Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said. “Big point swing when we were down there getting ready to put points on the board prior to half. It’s one thing to throw an interception, but to throw an interception for a touchdown that a huge point swing and a huge momentum changer. … We felt we were in control of that thing right up to that [first] interception.”
The rash of returns skewed the final statistics. Tennessee finished with just 221 total yards to Jacksonville’s 375, and time of possession favored the Jaguars by nearly five full minutes.
However, it’s not as if the numbers looked good before that. At the time of Brown’s first interception, the Jaguars had outgained the Titans 226-102, had a 12-5 edge in first downs and maintained possession for 17:22 of the first 28 minutes. Then again, if not for a couple of drops those numbers could have looked a lot different — and a lot like the final score.
With the 20 points allowed, Tennessee set a franchise record with 471 on the season. The previous mark was 460 points allowed in 1983, when then-Houston Oilers went 2-14. … The Titans finished the season 4-4 at LP Field, which made this the sixth time in seven seasons they went .500 or better at home. The lone exception was 2010, when they were 3-5. … With the victory Tennessee avoided going winless in the AFC South for the first time. Since the division was created in 2002, the Titans have gone 1-5 twice, including this season, 2-4 three times, 3-3 once, 4-2 four times and 6-0 once.