Matt Hasselbeck ran off the field holding a football over his head, celebrating both a win and his 36th birthday. Whether he gets to pass to Kenny Britt again this season remains to be seen.
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Hasselbeck threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Graham with 4:24 left, and the Titans rallied for a 17-14 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday after losing the AFC’s top receiver in the second quarter when his right knee buckled underneath him.
Britt limped out of the locker room wearing a brace, and coach Mike Munchak said the receiver would have tests to determine the extent of the injury. Hasselbeck found other players to throw to, including Graham, whose first catch of the season came against his former team.
”The bottom line is it’s hard to win in this league,” Munchak said. ”Any win to me is a good win, and 2-1 is a lot better than the alternative.”
Hasselbeck passed for 311 yards and two touchdowns to lead Tennessee to its second straight win.
The Titans intercepted Kyle Orton twice, sacked him once and also stopped Willis McGahee on fourth-and-goal at the 1 early in the fourth quarter.
”At the end of the day on the road, fourth and not even a full yard, I’d do it again next week,” Denver coach John Fox said. ”We’ve got to be able to get that and get that in. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Denver (1-2) had a last chance, driving to the Titans 38 before Will Witherspoon sacked Orton. Two plays later, Jason Jones batted Orton’s pass into the air, and Witherspoon picked it off with 1:39 left to seal the victory.
”There’s not much you can do about it,” Orton said.
A veteran signed to mentor rookie Jake Locker and to win now, Hasselbeck did just that as Denver held Chris Johnson to only 21 yards on 13 carries in his third game back from his contract holdout. Hasselbeck took control on the go-ahead drive that started at the Tennessee 5, completing passes to five different receivers, with the longest a 58-yarder to tight end Craig Stevens. He also tossed a 14-yard TD to Nate Washington.
Munchak said not many quarterbacks could’ve handled losing Britt along with the struggling run game.
”He came here to win,” Munchak said of Hasselbeck. ”He didn’t come here to retire quietly. He came here to make a difference and win, and he’s doing that for us.”
Hasselbeck said seeing a teammate leave with an injury can deflate a team, and there was confusion in the huddle and on routes.
”As a player, there’s nothing you can do about it to help him, so the best thing you can do is get that out of your mind and just be focused on what your job is, and your job is to play,” Hasselbeck said.
Britt, who had 271 yards receiving coming into the game, was hurt with 5:55 left in the second quarter. He had just caught a swing pass from Hasselbeck, eluded a tackler and tried to turn upfield when he fell to the ground and lost the ball.
The Titans forced Denver to go three-and-out, then punter Brett Kern came up with Tennessee’s longest rush this season on a 21-yard scramble after a low snap.
”He wasn’t able to return, so we were fortunate to come out with a win,” Hasselbeck said.
Denver called the Titans dirty a year ago after winning in Nashville. Tennessee racked up a season-high 11 penalties for 80 yards compared to just one for Denver on a facemask Sunday. Munchak said the Titans have to keep their emotions in check.
But Tennessee outgained the Broncos 333-231. Denver had Brandon Lloyd back on the field but didn’t score a point off two fumbles recovered. That included a fumble by Hasselbeck recovered at the Titans 13 late in the third quarter.
At the end of that drive, Fox took a timeout, pulled kicker Matt Prater off the field and went for it on fourth-and-goal. Derrick Morgan, Tennessee’s first-round pick a year ago, stopped McGahee for no gain. McGahee finished with 52 yards on 22 carries, and he said the Titans wanted it more than the Broncos.
”If we would have scored, we would have won, no doubt about it,” McGahee said.
The Titans led 10-7 at halftime before Orton took control of the third quarter with a 16-play drive using up more than eight minutes. He converted four third downs with completions, the last a 5-yarder to McGahee for a TD and a 14-10 lead with 1:17 left in the quarter. Orton was 9 of 10 for 51 yards on the drive.
Denver rookie Von Miller sacked Hasselbeck, knocking the ball loose, on the ensuing drive. That gave Denver the ball at the Titans 13 and seemingly all the momentum.
Hasselbeck completed 10 of his first 11 passes for 125 yards and a TD. He even connected with Johnson on a 34-yard pass down the left sideline that Fox challenged to make sure the running back got both feet in on the catch.
Notes: The Titans snapped the Broncos’ three-game streak in this series. … Washington finished with a career-high eight catches for 92 yards. … The 58-yard catch by Stevens is the longest of his career. … Titans CB Jason McCourty picked off a pass for a second straight week and has four for his career.