The Tennessee Titans had a second straight impressive showing in Tampa Bay Saturday night, laying a 34-3 smackdown on the defending Superbowl champion’s backups.
Here’s how it all went down:
Tennessee won the toss and chose to defer. A number of defensive starters were on the field to start the game: Jeffrey Simmons, Kevin Byard, Amani Hooker, Jayon Brown, and Rashaad Evans. Starting OLB Harold Landry was also out there, the first we’ve seen of him this preseason.
Rookie CB Elijah Molden started in the slot, making his first appearance in two-tone blue. He went on to be the star of the game, but more on that in a minute.
Tennessee gave up a 3rd and 7 for the first 1st down of the game, but S Kevin Byard broke up a 3rd down pass to TE OJ Howard to force a punt on the Buccaneers’ second set of downs.
WR Chester Rogers started the game fielding the punts for the Titans, and on came the offense.
The starting offensive line contained no regular starters. Head coach Mike Vrabel tapped Ty Sambrailo at LT, David Quessenberry at RT, Daniel Munyer at C, Cole Banwart at LG, and rookie Dillon Radunz at RG. Radunz starting at guard once again was of note, since the Titans drafted him to eventually play the right tackle position.
QB Logan Woodside got the start, and his weapons were RB Jeremy McNichols, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, WR Josh Reynolds, and TE Anthony Firkser. Following the lead of the Buccaneers, the Titans got a single first down before having to punt.
Both teams went three-and-out on their second drives. On defense, DL Teair Tart had a nice tackle for loss (TFL), and LB David Long Jr. had a big 3rd down sack to force the punt.
The Bucs third drive saw the much-anticipated arrival of rookie first-round CB Caleb Farley on the field. After a dropped snap from Buc’s QB Blaine Gabbert (yes, that Blaine Gabbert) and a second dropped catch by a wide-open OJ Howard, the Titans defense stopped RB Giovanni Bernard short on 4th down for the turnover.
QB Matt Barkley came into the game on the Titans’ third drive, a change from last week that saw Woodside and Barkley get entire halves to themselves. His first play is a quick strike to Westbrook-Ikhine down the middle, the first of many decisive throws from Barkley Saturday night.
RB Jeremy McNichols looked very lackluster all night in Tampa, his second underwhelming outing in a row. Though the offensive line was doing him zero favors, McNichols simply wasn’t making anything happen.
Barkley’s second pass of the night was a first down toss to WR Chester Rogers, who continues to prove his worth on this roster. the drive was capped off by a bootleg pass to RB Mekhi Sargent on 4th down for a touchdown, closing out the first quarter.
The second quarter of play saw a QB change for the Bucs, rolling Ryan Griffin out to lead the offense. The Titans’ defense shut him down as well, forcing a third straight drive without a first down conversion.
Barkley came back in at QB, and RB Mekhi Sargent officially took over for McNichols. Sargent immediately looked better than McNichols, finding ways to make positive plays despite the help from his line. This drive ended with a 48-yard field goal from K Sam Ficken, who has looked very solid all week.
The next Tampa Bay drive saw their first ball movement in four attempts. Rookie CB Caleb Farley was targeted for the first time in his NFL career, getting beat downfield by WR Scotty Miller who stepped out of bounds before getting two feet in. Farley bit just a little too hard on the double move, and he wasn’t able to make up for it with his elite closing speed. This was due to the unfortunate fact that he was covering one of the only athletes in the league with as much, if not more, burst than him. Scotty Miller runs a 4.36 forty.
The Titans put Logan Woodside back in, and he continued to deal with poor protection from the line. Tackle Paul Adams was the sole Titans casualty of the night, leaving for the locker room with an injury midway through the second quarter.
Rookie LB Monty Rice saw the field on the ensuing Buccaneers drive, despite an injury earlier in the week during joint practice. LB John Simon had a nice strip-sack that Tampa recovered, but the drive was still cut short by a great defensive play by newly acquired S Bradley McDougald. former Titans kicker now with the Bucs, Ryan Succop, put his team on the board, the score 10-3 Titans.
Chester Rogers fielded the kickoff and nearly returned it for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a suspect penalty. WR Mason Kinsey had a nice third-down catch on this drive, that ended with a last-second 58 (58!) yard field goal from K Sam Ficken. The score at the half was Titans 13, Buccaneers 3.
Receiving the kick after the half, Matt Barkley led the Titans down the field targeting Kinsey once again, his favorite target of the night. Rookie WR Dez Fitzpatrick started the second half on the field as well. Barkley unleashed one deep downfield to WR Fred Brown, who was wide open but couldn’t locate the ball in the air. Tennessee is forced to punt.
The first Buccaneers drive of the half resulted in a bizarre tipped-ball interception by Briean Boddy-Calhoun who returned for it a touchdown, making it 20-3 Titans.
Rookie QB Kyle Trask came in for Tampa Bay in the third quarter. His night consisted mostly of wild incomplete passes and not much ball movement.
All through the second half, Titans RB Mekhi Sargent continued to impress, as the only Titans back who could find positive yards behind the struggling line. Logan Woodside threw a touchdown pass to rookie Dez Fitzpatrick, left open by a blown coverage. Many wondered if this could kickstart the struggling rookie and give him a boost of confidence going forward. 27-3 Titans.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, another Titans’ interception put them in the red zone. This pick was thanks to an impressive PBU from rookie CB Elijah Molden, the ball bouncing off his helmet directly into the arms of newly acquired S Clayton Geathers.
That interception set up the best pass of the night, a strike from Barkley that threaded the needle into the arms of Mason Kinsey in the endzone, making it 34-3 Titans.
Elijah Molden wasn’t done, and on the next drive had back-to-back impact plays. The first was the most impressive perhaps from either team all night: a slide under two linemen to get to the quarterback on a bull rush for the sack.
On the very next play, Molden made a nice tackle for loss on a screen pass.
To cap a very successful night for Tennessee, newly acquired S Jamal Carter (the third safety added this week to make a splash play in the game) snagged himself an interception off the fingers of a Buccaneer receiver.
The Titans return home for their final preseason game this week, hosting the Chicago Bears on Saturday.
What was your favorite part of Saturday night’s game? Let us know in the comments!