To the Tennessee Titans, it mattered little that they spent the first three quarters of last week's game in Detroit flailing and failing like the team that's gone 5-27 the previous two years.
What mattered most at the end of a decidedly inelegant game was this: In the fourth quarter, Tennessee put together two touchdown drives, came up with the big stop in the last minute and left Ford Field with a 16-15 win.
“Being around here, we haven't won many games like that,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “Hopefully, that will turn stuff around. I think the one thing this year is that we honestly believed and we thought throughout that whole game that we'd be able to pull it out. Then to do it, now we know we can.”
Tennessee (1-1) will try for its first back-to-back wins since 2013 Sunday when it hosts the Oakland Raiders at Nissan Stadium. Coincidentally, that was also the last year the Titans sniffed any kind of playoff contention, although they turned a 3-1 start into a 7-9 finish that resulted in the firing of coach Mike Munchak.
Oakland (1-1) followed up a dramatic 35-34 win in Week 1 at New Orleans with a come-from-ahead 35-28 loss last week to Atlanta. The Raiders' defense has allowed more than 1,000 yards in the two games, leading to some serious questions.
In fact, coach Jack Del Rio took over the defense in the fourth quarter from coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., then said Monday that changes were coming. But Del Rio said he isn't planning to run the defense this week.
“I think for us, it's about us,” he said. “It's a collective effort. We all share in it so I'm not going to throw any one person under the bus. It's not any one person that's at fault here. Collectively, as a group, we have to pick it up.”
Tennessee would seem to be an ideal foe to pick it up against. While the Titans have shown flashes of being the team coach Mike Mularkey envisioned in preseason, they've only managed 16 points in each of their first two games.
In quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back DeMarco Murray, tight end Delanie Walker and rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, Tennessee has more pieces offensively than it's had in a few years. But critical mistakes had tripped it up until the fourth quarter in Detroit.
There, Mariota threw two touchdown passes and completed all nine of his attempts for 74 yards on the game-winning drive, giving the Titans only their sixth win since the 2014 season's beginning.
“We have to build off this win and show up at our home game,” Walker said. “We have to protect our house.”
That's been much easier said than done for Tennessee, which is 2-15 in its last 17 games at home, dating back to the 2014 home opener. Its two wins in that span have been one-possession verdicts against equally bad Jacksonville.
Oakland is one of many teams to leave Nashville with a win in the last two-plus years, rallying late to take a 24-21 decision on Nov. 30, 2015, as Derek Carr found Seth Roberts for a late touchdown pass.
Carr already boasts 618 yards and four touchdown passes in two games, while wide receiver Amari Cooper has 208 yards. The presence of Michael Crabtree and Roberts keeps teams from constantly doubling Cooper, and Latavius Murray offers a ground threat that prevents opponents from concentrating solely on the passing game.
“We know the challenge they pose and how good they are offensively,” McCourty said. “They are going to come in here hungry after they lost a tough one to Atlanta. So it's going to be a tough challenge for us.”
The challenge will be equally difficult for the Raiders if they don't start generating some 3-and-outs, as well as big plays, on defense. The Titans are certain to emphasize Walker in the game plan after Falcon tight ends combined for 180 yards on 10 receptions last week.
Del Rio might insert rookies Karl Joseph and Cory James at safety and inside linebacker, respectively, and could also bench cornerback Sean Smith. Even linebacker Khalil Mack, the leader of the defense, has been neutralized with only two pressures and no sacks the first two weeks.
Like his teammates, Mack is chagrined at the defense's play.
“A thousand yards,” he said. “Being the leader of this defense, that hurts.”