It could be better, but it could be worse for the Tennessee Titans at the midway point of the 2013 season. Behind a vintage performance by Chris Johnson, the Titans defeated the St. Louis Rams 28-21 to get to 4-4. Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher Zac Stacy dazzled himself, with 178 total yards and two touchdowns for St. Louis. The Rams are now 3-6 in Jeff Fisher’s second season as head coach there, 10-14-1 overall.
It seemed in many ways like old-home week for the Titans, not only with facing their former coach, but former players Cortland Finnegan and Jared Cook. Finnegan had a big game with five tackles, an interception, and a deflection. He also picked up a penalty and was his usual irritating self. Jared Cook caught three for 36 yards and a score, but also dropped at least two others. So it was all as we expected against those two and the rest of the typically feisty Rams.
On Sunday, the Titans started fast. Chris Johnson broke through for 23 on the first play and later after three Rams penalties. Shonn Greene ran it in from the five to put Tennessee up 7-0. On their first possession, the Rams drove inside the Titans 20, when undrafted rookie Bennie Cunningham fumbled without being hit—recovered by the Titans’ Cody Sensabaugh at the 10-yard line. Struggling to find the field, this was not a good thing for middle Tennessee product Cunningham.
St. Louis had an open competition at running back after the departure of longtime ball carrier Stephen Jackson. Zac Stacy has emerged as the guy. His 127 rushing yards Sunday gave him 450 so far this season, second only to the Packers’ Eddie Lacy among rookies. Stacy scored his second NFL touchdown, first rushing, from three yards out to tie the score 7-7 with 9:44 left in the first half. Later, Zac added another, from nine yards out, to give the Rams a 14-7 second quarter advantage.
As for Jake Locker, it was a real struggle. Once again tied with a restrictive playbook that does not allow him to stretch the field, Locker had his poorest rating of the season, 48.5. He completed 13-of-22 with two interceptions and was sacked four times. On this day, the game truly belonged to Chris Johnson.
Johnson looked like CJ2K with a burst and decisiveness rarely seen the last couple years, and the o-line fired off the ball. Johnson rushed for 150 yards on the day and his first two rushing touchdowns of the year. His 14-yarder in the third tied the game at 14, and his 19-yarder with 2:54 left in the fourth (following a sack/fumble of Rams QB Kellen Clemens by Jurrell Casey) gave Tennessee their winning margin.
So the Titans are pretty much where they started as the season goes into its second half. Tennessee trails the first-place Colts by two games and has both meetings with the Colts left. But they are within a three-week period. The Titans also have both games with winless Jacksonville remaining, including this Sunday at LP Field. A November 24 trip to Oakland is sandwiched by the Colts encounters during the next four games.
The third quarter of the NFL season is much like the third round of a golf major, moving day. Standing chest-to-chest with the Colts will tell the tale of where this season is headed. Win both, and the playoffs seem certain; split them, and tread water; lose them, and the Titans are on the clock.