ARLINGTON, Texas _ The Tennessee Titans believed in the power of 10 in Sunday's 34-27 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
On a date numbered 10/10/10, what else could they do but put their trust No. 10 - quarterback Vince Young, who passed for 173 yards and two touchdowns, hitting 12 of 25 throws? The Titans' new-found vertical attack opened up clogged rushing lanes for Chris Johnson with deep passes that produced not only an average of 14.4 yards per pass play, but also picked up two critical pass interference calls (plus another declined on Nate Washington's TD) for 48 yards on the first drive of the game.
When it was over, the Titans had survived 511 yards of total offense from the Cowboys, 36:44 in time of possession and 70-plus snaps for the defense for the third straight week.
More important, Tennessee shook off the bitter after-taste of last week's collapse against Denver and improved to 3-2, forging a four-way tie for the lead in the AFC South with a Monday night game at Jacksonville up next on the schedule.
Tennessee helped offset that, getting six sacks against Tony Romo, forcing three critical interceptions, getting a 73-yard kickoff return from Marc Mariani and playing mistake-free football with regard to turnovers themselves.
But as much as anything, it was the composure from Young and his rapport with his new-found go-to receiver in Kenny Britt that established the tempo for Tennessee and helped the Titans withstand the offensive barrage in Dallas.
Coming into the game, Young, who is still unbeaten as a pro in three career starts in his home state of Texas, said he was aware of the triplicate 10s and said it was a good luck charm.
“10/10/10. I told them I was going to use 10 as my good luck today and all those types of things,” Young said. “A lot of people were saying 10/10/10, what are you gonna do? I got a lot of text messages about 10/10/10, and I said I need to get that 'W' today. We got that 'W' today. So I'm pretty happy about that.”
Offensively, it wasn't just luck, but a change in approach that helped Tennessee establish control. With teams selling out to stop Johnson, the Titans went vertical, especially to Britt, who had four catches for 86 yards, mostly working against Cowboys cornerback Michael Jenkins, and also picked up two of the pass interference calls for 48 yards on the first drive.
“We opened up the playbook and threw the ball around, and those plays we made throwing the ball around really helped us out. They didn't know what we were doing at times,” Britt said.
In the end, Johnson wound up finding some running room as well, going for 131 yards and a pair of 1-yard scores on just 19 carries.
On defense for the Titans, there was some good luck involved, in addition to good plays. There were Cowboys drives of 39 and 70 yards that ended with no points, thanks to a David Buehler missed 44-yard field goal and the first of three Romo interceptions.
There were two more picks by the Titans – one by rookie Alterraun Verner on a ball that Dave Ball got a hand on – deep in Dallas territory that was returned to the 1 for a short-lived 27-20 lead, and one from Stephen Tulloch late that sealed the game and gave Tennessee a road win.
And also figuring into the equation was a key 15-yard penalty on Cowboys lineman Mark Columbo for excessive celebration that put the Titans in position for Mariani's return that set up the winning score.
It was a Titans' win that came despite the Titans running just 23 offensive plays in the second half and having the football for a grand total of 8:52 in the third and fourth quarters.
It came despite Romo throwing for 406 yards, Tennessee's third straight game yielding a 300-yard passing performance, and Felix Jones running for 109 yards on just 15 carries.
“I don't know. Bend-but-don't break or whatever. It's just all about winning, and we won,” Ball said.