JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The forgotten man had a memorable game.
Chris Brown not only ran for a career-high 175 yards Sunday, but together with a suddenly stubborn run defense, helped the Tennessee Titans turn in an old-school 13-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Brown, who languished on the bench for much of last season then found no takers in free agency, ran over, through and around the usually strong Jaguars front as part of Tennessee’s 282-yard rushing day en route to the season-opening win.
“It was nice when you could run through them and nobody was even close to touching you,” said Brown, who had just 156 yards rushing all of last season. “They knew what was coming, and they still couldn’t stop it. That just hurts a defense.
“Their defense is built to stop the run, and our offense is built to run it, so our attitude all week was, ‘Let the best man win.’”
The Titans dominated for much of the game, even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect it, garnering nearly 37 minutes in time of possession against the defense ranked No. 4 in the NFL last year versus the run.
Tennessee persevered a tough first half in which the Titans hurt themselves with red zone miscues.
Three times the Titans ventured into the red zone in the first half with only a pair of Rob Bironas field goals and foiled on a fourth-down run by LenDale White inside the Jacksonville 1 to show for it.
The Titans trailed just 10-6 at halftime, and owed much of their ability to stay close to a rejuvenated run defense that bottled up the Jaguars’ one-two rushing punch of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew for virtually the entire game.
In all, Tennessee’s defense, which was ranked dead last overall in 2006, limited the Jaguars to just 72 rushes on 18 carries, including just six yards on nine carries in the first half.
The turnaround was mostly one of mindset, said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
“I think a lot of it is attitude,” Vanden Bosch said. “We did some good things in the preseason and got some confidence, and the whole offseason we had in mind that we have Jacksonville in the opener. We knew it was going to be a physical matchup, and we knew if we didn’t do a good job of stopping the run, we weren’t going to win this game.”
That smashmouth attitude was prevalent in the Titans’ offense, as Tennessee ran the ball on 49 of its 69 offensive snaps. Despite the first-half scoring problems, the Titans stayed the course in the second half on offense.
“We had three drives inside the 10-yard line and didn’t get touchdowns,” center Kevin Mawae said. “But we didn’t make any adjustments. We said we were going to keep doing what we had been doing and stick to it, and that’s what we did.”
The telling moment for the offense came in the third quarter after the Jaguars, forced to go for a fourth-and-10 at the Titans’ 19 because of kicker Josh Scobee’s quadriceps injury, were turned away.
Tennessee’s offense responded with a 12-play, 79-yard touchdown march to take the lead for good, using the same formula that had worked all game along, using 11 runs (including one Vince Young scramble) to just one pass play. Young capped off the drive with a two-yard run on a quarterback draw.
Part of the Titans’ rushing success came courtesy of Norm Chow’s game plan to use more three- and four-receiver sets to keep the Jaguars from crowding extra men in the box, thus creating wide rushing lanes for Brown and White.
“The big thing that Norm Chow said was that he wanted to spread guys out and go out there and do what we do,” said Young, who took on caretaker role at quarterback, completing 11 of 18 for just 78 yards with one interception. “We executed the plays and took what they gave us.”
For veteran guard Benji Olson, it was a throwback kind of effort by the Titans.
“We were out there running the ball good. It was a good game, a close game,” Olson said. “We left some points out there, but it reminded me of Eddie [George] running up in there. The backs really hit the creases well. The backs ran hard and the o-line did a good job.”
That, combined with a defense that allowed no points in the second half, equaled a Titans’ upset victory of an old rival in an old familiar way.
No one contributed more than Brown, who had been virtually given up on last season and left as an unrestricted free agent, only to return in June after the Titans failed to land a veteran running back via trade or free agency and he found no other takers.
Sunday proved to be a fresh start for the Titans and Brown, who said, “I’ve already forgotten about last year.”