The return of Jake Locker on Sunday also meant a return to winning for the Tennessee Titans, who thrashed the Miami Dolphins 37-3 at SunLife Stadium.
Zach Brown had one of the Titans' four takeaways Sunday in Miami
Locker, playing for the first time since dislocating his shoulder on Sept. 30, had two touchdown passes, even though he was just 9 of 21 for 122 yards on the day, but he also had four runs for 36 yards as the Titan improved to 4-6 entering their bye week.
“It wasn’t perfect, but we talked about it before the game, our goal wasn’t to come out and play perfect football, it was to play winning football,” said Locker, who made his first start since separating the shoulder for the second time on Sept. 30 vs. Houston. “I thought that our defense put us in great situations all game and we were able to put some drives together offensively and put points on the board.”
Chris Johnson had another big day as well, rushing for 126 yards on 23 carries, including a 17-yard touchdown run on a nice cutback after he had been bottled up going left.
“That’s something that he’s special at. He’s one of those guys that can stop, change direction and get back up into gear to score,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said of Johnson. “These guys (the Dolphins) are No. 3 in the league at stopping the run. We knew that was going to be a huge challenge. He’s the first back in 22, 23 games to have a hundred yards on them (the Dolphins), so he accomplished that. He’s been doing that now against Chicago, Houston, Pittsburgh … I think he’s showing, and the run game is showing, what we thought it would be.”
But the biggest story of the day was the Titans opportunistic defense, which came up with four turnovers, including Colin McCarthy's 49-yard interception return for a score as the Titans rolled to a 24-3 halftime lead.
“Everybody was doing what they were supposed to do. That’s pretty much what we preached all week because there have been games where we were supposed to be in a certain position and nobody was there and that’s when they made the big plays on us,” said linebacker Akeem Ayers, one of thee Titans linebackers with interceptions.
It was quite the contrast for a Titans team that was dreadful at home last week in losing to the Chicago Bears, 51-12.
Ayers also tipped the ball that landed in McCarthy's hands. He said the defense, which entered the game on an NFL record pace for points allowed, went back to basics at the urging of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.
“That happened a lot to us during the season so we pretty much wanted to take it by the basics, that’s what Coach (Jerry) Gray talked about. He said don’t worry about it, do one’s job,” Ayers said.
On Sunday, it looked as though things were going to shift the Titans way very early as Jason McCourty stripped and recovered a fumble by Reggie Bush at the Dolphins 28-yard line to set up the Titans' first score.
From there, Locker marched the Titans to the end zone, getting a 21-yard run from Johnson to set up first-and-goal, and then hitting Kendall Wright for a nine-yard touchdown two plays later for a 7-0 lead.
The Titans continued to roll, recording their most lopsided victory since defeating the St. Louis Rams, 47-7 on Dec. 13, 2009.
“When we get it that close we want to score. I mean three points is good, but when we’re in the red zone we want to score, and the defense played great,” Wright said.
Locker had another touchdown in the second half, when Jared Cook made a nice over-the-shoulder catch from 26 yards out.
Munchak said the Titans responded well after being demolished last week by the Bears and even getting a public admonishing from owner Bud Adams following the loss.
“I think it’s a credit to these guys (players) -- the way they responded to a very hard week for everybody,” Munchak said. “It went bad for us last Sunday and we stuck together, hung together, came out and knew how important the game was and came out and made the plays on both side of the ball. And, yeah, I think everyone knows the obvious happened – last week we hurt ourselves and this week we got four turnovers. It was exciting to see how we responded to a tough spot.