published Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Titans defense stifles Panthers in 30-3 win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chris Johnson, not Cam Newton, made the big plays.

Johnson ran for a season-high 130 yards and a touchdown, and the Tennessee Titans used a stifling defense to frustrate the rookie quarterback in a 30-3 rout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

The Titans (5-4) sacked Newton five times and took away Carolina’s vertical passing game. Carolina came in ranked fifth in the league on offense and first in plays of 20-plus yards, but the Titans limited Newton to 209 yards passing and held Steve Smith’s, the NFC’s leading receiver, to 33 yards.

Johnson had 174 yards from scrimmage and eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time since Oct. 2. Marc Mariani returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown, and Matt Hasselbeck threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams, who finished with 107 yards receiving.

The Panthers (2-7) came in averaging 415 yards and more than 23 points behind a big-play offense, but Tennessee’s defense completely took away their downfield passing game — and just about everything else.

Carolina’s longest pass play went for 19 yards, and DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were limited to 58 yards rushing as the Titans continuously put the Panthers in third-and-long situations.

Five of Carolina’s eight first-half drives ended in three-and-outs. Two others were halted by costly mistakes by tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen fumbled in the red zone early on then dropped an easy 16-yard reception late in the first half that would have made for a short field goal attempt by Olindo Mare. Instead, Mare missed the ensuing 50-yard kick on the final play of the first half, and the Titans took a 17-0 lead into the locker room.

Johnson took over from there.

He had 104 yards rushing in the second half and scored for just the second time this season on the ground.

The Panthers were coming off a bye week and appeared stuck in their slumber on Sunday.

After Carolina went three-and-out on its first possession, Mariani returned Jason Baker’s punt 79 yards for a 7-0 lead. It was the third long punt return for a touchdown allowed by the Panthers this season and the 11th against Baker, the most of any active punter in the NFL.

Tennessee made it 14-0 on its first possession when Williams turned a short pass from Hasselbeck into a 43-yard scoring play after Panthers defensive backs Sherrod Martin and Darius Butler missed tackles.

Hasselbeck finished 15 of 27 for 219 yards with his only mistake, a third-quarter interception, leading to a Carolina field goal. Even then, the Tennessee defense held after the Panthers took over deep in Titans territory.

The Panthers’ previous low scoring output this season was 16 points.

Rob Bironas added three field goals, and Johnson closed out the game late in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard TD run.

The teams combined for 21 penalties for 191 yards.

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