There's no other way to describe the Tennessee Titans' 44-41 overtime victory over the Detroit Lions.
Tennessee overcame a Hail Mary TD pass as the fourth quarter expired, finishing off squandering a 14-point lead, got a 27-yard penalty markoff on the eventual game-winning drive, and stopped a fourth-down quarterback sneak that withstood a review.
“I can honestly say, 30 years being around the NFL, I never saw anything close to what we experienced in this game,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “The highs and the lows, both sides of the ball.”
Fortunately for the Titans, things ended on a high note in overtime when the Lions mistakenly snapped the football on fourth-and-1 with the Titans stuffing a quarterback sneak from backup Shaun Hill at the 7-yard line.
That play wasn't even supposed to happen, as the Lions were supposed to try and draw the Titans offsides, and if that didn't work, settle for a tying field goal.
It was just that type of game.
The Titans scored twice on special teams returns, got a 71-yard TD pass from Nate Washington and in the final two minutes had a 72-yard snatch of a reception to Brandon Pettigrew by Alterraun Verner to seemingly seal the win with a 41-27 edge. That was with just 1:16 to play and Lions star quarterback Matthew Stafford out with a leg injury.
But enter Hill and was what nearly a Music City Meltdown for the Titans. Hill directed the Lions to the end zone against Tennessee's prevent defense for what looked like a consolation touchdown.
Then, the Lions recovered the onside kick with 16 seconds left with time for a Hail Mary throw from 46 yards out. Hill aired it out, and Titans linebacker Akeem Ayers batted the ball the ball downward, but right into the waiting arms of Lions receiver Titus Young for the miracle tying touchdown.
“I never saw the receiver but I saw the quarterback as soon as he released it into the air, and my first mission to jump up and bat the ball in the air, and we go home with a victory. The guy came out of nowhere the caught the ball. … We could have played it better,” Ayers said.
Verner said Young did the smart thing and had a little good fortune go his way as well.
“We tried to jump for it, but their player did a very, very smart thing. He didn't jump, and he waited for the ricochet and it just so happened, it went right to him,” Verner said. “I wouldn't say it was luck, but it just so happened that it went to him. We've got to find a way to play that better.”
But the Titans lived to tell about in the overtime, with a little bit of help from the replacement officials, the poise of quarterback Jake Locker and the redemptive foot of Rob Bironas, who had missed two field goal tries earlier in the game.
Tennessee won the toss in overtime, and Locker, who threw for a career-high 378 yards on 29 of 42 passes, began a march. The first big play of the overtime looked to have come from Craig Stevens. Instead it came from the replacement officials.
Stevens had what was ruled a 23-yard reception from Locker, plus a 15-yard helmet-to-helmet hit from former Titan Stephen Tulloch on the play. When the play was reviewed, it was ruled that Stevens did not catch the ball.
The penalty on Tulloch stood, and 15 yards and a first down should have been marked off from the Tennessee 44-yard line, the previous line of scrimmage. Instead, it was marked from the Detroit 44. Many of the Titans players and coaches said they had no idea they had picked up 12 additional yards to the Lions 29. From there, the Titans got to the 16-yard line where Bironas made a 26-yard field goal to atone for two earlier misses.
“I wasn't sure what they did,” Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “I thought it was a catch (by Stevens). But hey, those things, happen, It's unfortunate, but I wasn't aware of it.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz, a former Titans defensive coordinator, tried to get the officials' attention, but could not correct the mistake because the replay booth handles all overtime challenges.
“I kept on trying to alert them to that fact,” Schwartz said. “It's overtime, and I can't challenge anything. Obviously, there was a miscommunication.”
Miscommunication did the Lions in at the end at the end. Detroit reached the Tennessee 7 yard line on fourth-and-inches, and Hill was supposed to try and draw the Titans defense offsides, and kick a field goal if that didn't work. But center Dominic Raiola snapped the football and Hill was stuffed for a one-yard loss, ending the game.
For the Titans, it was a hard-earned victory, but one that showed some resiliency for a team desperately in need of a win after two blowout losses.
“I think that for us today, especially, our focus all week was to kind of forget about things that were int eh past that we can't control anymore,” Locker said. “So I think it was real fitting for kind of everything that we faced this week.”
Locker was on his game, completing his first five passes, even though the Titans' opening drive ended with his aborted shotgun snap.
It was special teams that also aided and abetted the Titans in their first win, as Tennessee brought out a play called “Maroon 6” that looked suspiciously like the Music City Miracle play, except on a punt.
Darius Reynaud fielded the punt at his own 37 and fired back across the field to Tommie Campbell, who raced untouched to the end zone for Tennessee's first TD.
“I remember (Frank) Wycheck throwing the ball back to (Kevin) Dyson,” Campbell said of the Music City Miracle play. “It was very similar. This lined up exactly the same way.”
Some 65 yards later, Campbell was in the end zone and the Titans were up 10-6.
There were plenty of other big plays all around on Sunday on both sides, as Locker hooked up with Jared Cook on a 61-yard TD pass in the first half.
“I thought Jake had gotten pushed out of the pocket a little bit, so I just kept running and he found me,” said Cook, who later left the game with a left shoulder injury. “He saw me one-on-one with the linebacker, and saw that I got over the top of him. After that, I just ran.”
There was plenty of that going on, as the Lions rallied and took a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter, as the fireworks were just beginning.
Reynaud, who played the supporting role on Campbell's touchdown, took the starring role on the ensuing kickoff going 105 yards up the right side, thanks to a nice block from Taylor Thompson to spring him free.
“Right before that play, Taylor came up to me and he was just telling me, just follow me,” said Reynaud.
The big plays continued for the Titans as the defense held in the tie game, and Locker then connected with Nate Washington, who grabbed an underthrown deep ball off the back of defensive back Jacob Lacey for an amazing catch, and strolled into the end zone for a 71-yard score.
“I've made some catches, but I'd probably rank it up there top two or three,” Washington said. “We were kind of in a position where somebody needed to make a play, whether it was me or somebody else. I'm just grateful that it was me.”
After that, it was Verner's turn to play hero, snatching the ball away from Pettigrew following a short completion.
“I just new that as a team we needed a play. We needed to get a pick or a fumble or something and at least get the ball back for the offense, so they can waste some time off the clock,” Verner said. “I just thought that was a perfect opportunity. The tight end didn't see me, so when he turned, I felt like he was shocked, so I was like, 'Might as well give it a try.' If worse comes to worst, I'm at least gonna make the tackle, and somehow I was able to get the ball out.”
It seemed as if the Titans had the game in hand at that point, but the Lions' late-game heroics forced the overtime and turned the game into an instant classic.
“It was back-and-forth, and luckily we made the last play,” Munchak said.
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