When all else fails fire your coach.
For the second time this season an NFL head coach has been fired – and we’re only at the halfway point of the season. Last month the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin turning their season around (to a degree). The Tennessee Titans were the victims of that move as they lost in interim coach Dan Campbell’s first game 38-10 and also lost starting QB Marcus Mariota to a knee injury.
The Titans, taking the same play out of the Dolphins’ playbook fired Ken Whisenhunt Tuesday after a 1-6 start and 3-20 record the past two seasons and named Mike Mularkey their interim coach. The result: an exciting 34-28 overtime win against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
There was plenty to celebrate Sunday for the Titans. Besides the win they also welcomed Mariota back under center who responded with a personal best 371 passing yards and like the season opener threw for four touchdowns.
“I think we need to get rested and get everybody recuperated for a little bit. Get away from it for just a second and come back refreshed and ready to go, and go make that run,” said Titans tight end Anthony Fasano who caught the game winning touchdown in overtime to give the Titans their first win since September.
The Titans played with a lot of emotion Sunday – maybe too much. The team was called for a number of unsportsmanlike penalties that led to two Drew Brees touchdown passes and one play even included back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play. “I know I got a little crazy out there, and other people did too. But we settled down quickly and played football,” said Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. “Like I said it’s very hard and frustrating when you get a call like that because you work so hard to get to a guy like Drew Brees. But even if the calls didn’t go in our favor, we had to settle down and continue to play football.”
Besides the obviously fired up Tennessee defense the offensive line did a better job as Mariota had more time in the pocket and avoided being sacked. “I knew that Marcus (Mariota) is pretty good at getting the ball out of his hands. We’ll look at the tape and see how we did with our rush. It’s kind of frustrating,” said Saints coach Sean Payton. “We played some zone and some man coverage. We just struggled getting off the field, and obviously when you lose like that in overtime, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
The Saints seemed to be toying with the Titans only taking a 21-17 lead into the locker at the half and expanded their lead to 28-17 before some heroics from Mariota who completed 28-of-39 passes on the day to pull even thanks to a successful two-point conversion.
The Saints, winner of three in a row and looking more like their old selves faltered late allowing the Titans and their rookie QB back into the game and eventually in overtime. “Momentum in games sometimes can be a little bit out of your control. I think that we got off to a fast start. I think that’s something that we talked about all week. We were able to do that, which was good,” said Saints tackle Zach Strief. “We had momentum not go our way. Sometimes that happens. We felt real good coming into half time. I would tell you the inability to establish that momentum coming out of half time hurt us the most.”
Both teams had chances to win in regulation as both kickers missed two late field goal attempts.
“The biggest thing was that your whole emotion could’ve been deflated when that field goal hit the crossbar. Not once did someone on that sideline say that ‘we are not still in this, we are not still going to win this game’,” said Mularkey. “That is this team. I have been in the league a long time. I’m just proud of them, really, really proud. They needed that. They really needed that.”
Lost in all the excitement of the loss is the Atlanta connection the Titans have. Very quickly Harry Douglas has become one of Mariota’s favorite targets as well as tight end Chase Coffman. Both were signed in the off-season from the Falcons who were cut with a new regime in Atlanta coming in. And let us not forget Mularkey. The interim head coach before a disastrous season in Jacksonville as head coach was the Falcons offensive coordinator during Mike Smith’s first four seasons that saw the team have consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. He was there for four of the five they had before things fell apart in 2013.
“It was an (absolutely) great win for this team. They are so competitive. They want to win so bad. They have come up short so many times,” said Mularkey about the win. “To keep the resilience throughout the game (says a lot). It could’ve got bad early. At times, that has happened with us. Never once did they ever flinch. And (they) just kind of kept coming back and making it a close game.”
Mularkey and the Titans face off Thursday night against the coach’s old team s they face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:2 and the game will be aired on the NFL Network.
– Dave Weinthal
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