Perhaps the Tennessee Titans were in job-saving mode for their coaches and themselves on Sunday.
But whatever it was, two punt returns from Darius Reynaud for touchdowns and a pair of interception returns for scores by linebacker Zach Brown propelled Tennessee to a 38-14 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It marked the first time in NFL history that a team had two punt returns and two interception returns for scores.
The Titans' offense was the easy beneficiary of that display, as they went from the 3:16 mark of the second quarter to the 10:25 point of the third quarter without touching the football, as Tennessee went from down 14-7 to comfortably ahead 35-14.
The victory helps to erase some of the stench of last week's 55-7 loss at Green Bay, but it remains to be seen how much of the coaching staff or players might have saved their jobs with the performance.
Owner Bud Adams is expected to meet with Coach Mike Munchak, general manager Ruston Webster and COO Mike Reinfeldt to decide what direction the franchise will go in the off-season, what changes may need to be made and whether or not there will be moves made to the coaching staff or front office.
Cornerback Jason McCourty said such a disappointing season leads to the reality that changes are afoot, even though the season ended on a high note Sunday.
“It erases it for a moment, but when we look back on the season, it's still going to be a disappointment,” McCourty said. “I don't think when we looked at it we said, 'All right, let's go 6-10 this year.' But it's still nice to go out on a winning note. You play to win every game, so we're not happy with the season we had.”
On Sunday, the Titans' offense was still sluggish except for a strong first drive that ended with Chris Johnson's two-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
But the defense and special teams came to the rescue, turning the seven-point deficit into a 21-point lead without the Titans offense ever taking the field.
First, Brown, who had dropped a sure interception early in the game, picked off a Chad Henne pass and carried it 79 yards for the tying touchdown.
“He had a tendency to stare down where he was gonna throw it, and I just took a little quick peak to see who was over there. I just ran toward the closest guy and 89 (Marcedes Lewis) was over there,” Brown said.
The Tennessee defense, which gave up a franchise record for points allowed in a season with 471, then forced a punt that Reynaud fielded at his 31 yard line. He quickly found an opening and raced 69 yards into the end zone for the go-ahead TD just 33 seconds before halftime.
Tennessee continued to pour it on with big plays in the third quarter as Reynaud fielded another punt, slipped and then reversed field back to his left, finding open space and Coty Sensabaugh there to take care of the last Jaguars tackler around midfield. When it was done, he had his second score of the day, this one from 81 yards.
“I saw all those guys on the right side. It was a right return, so when I slipped, I turned back around and saw all my blockers to the left side. They made some good blocks and I just finished after that,” Reynaud said.
Not to be outdone, Brown got back into the act again on the next series, as teammate Tommie Campbell tipped a Henne pass right into his arms, and Brown did the rest, going 30 yards for the score and a 35-14 lead.
The Titans would eventually tack on a Rob Bironas 48-yard field goal before the Jaguars blocked a Brett Kern punt to account for the final margin.
For Tennessee, it marked at least a decent end to a season that came apart weeks ago, and perhaps something to build upon for the future, though there are many areas that need improvement before next season.
“It's not the way we wanted the year to pan out, but everybody just wants to get healthy and get ready and come back next year. It's going to be totally different next year. I believe we'll come out with way more fire than we did this year, depending on people from day one,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said.
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