Mark Wiedmer: Titans go to overtime for a thrilling win over the Lions

Mark Wiedmer: Titans go to overtime for a thrilling win over the Lions

September 24th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) warms up before an NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, in Nashville.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - The winning quarterback in the wildest Tennessee Titans victory ever, Jake Locker summed up his team's 44-41 overtime victory over visiting Detroit on Sunday thusly:

"I couldn't have dreamed this up when I was five years old."

Welcome to the very first episode of Jake and the Never-Say-Die Titans.

Down 27-20 with 6:53 to play in the fourth quarter, Locker helped guide his team to a 41-27 lead with 1:16 to go in the final period.

To better understand the unlikelihood of that, the shortest of those three Tennessee scores - which included a franchise-best 105-yard kickoff return and a 72-yard fumble recovery return - was a 71-yard TD toss from Locker to Nate Washington.

Said Locker of that circus catch, in which Washington reached over defensive back Jacob Lacey's helmet to catch the ball, then turned and ran the final 35 yards untouched: "I'd be highly disappointed for his sake if it's not a top play on the Top 10 this week. I didn't give him a real good [throw], but he made the best of it."

Yet that was only the beginning, for Detroit would score two touchdowns in the game's final 18 seconds without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford on the field for either one, the second of those a 46-yard Hail Mary at the horn from reserve QB Shaun Hill to Titus Young. No one in NFL history had ever scored twice in 18 seconds to force OT.

Dizzy yet?

"I mean, we score 21 points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter," recalled Titans coach Mike Munchak. "We thought obviously that we had put it away."

But they hadn't. And now it was overtime and Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner -- who scored on the 72-yard fumble return after stripping the ball from Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew -- was on the sidelines wondering what could possibly happen next, and worrying that it could all end badly for a team that entered this day 0-2 on the season.

"A loss here," he said, pausing for a moment. "A loss here would have been devastating."

It had been a devastatingly breathtaking fourth quarter, filled with 46 points, six touchdowns (three by each side) and nine plays of 12 yards or longer.

Ahead 27-20 with under seven minutes to go, the Lions appeared to hold the upper hand until Darius Reynaud returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards to tie the game.

Ahead 41-27 - roughly half of the 69,143 Tennessee fans already in the parking lot, convinced their heroes had won - the Titans were equally stunned to watch the Lions force overtime, despite Stafford being sidelined with a bad leg.

Said Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, the former Titans defensive coordinator: "We were lucky just to be in the game at the end."

And perhaps they were. Especially since luck had seemed to side with the Titans for so long this sun-kissed afternoon. In a game in which so much happened late, it was easy to forget the play that started it all for the home team, a play called "Maroon," which apparently is the regular-season version of the Music City Miracle.

The Miracle, of course, occurred against Buffalo inside this same stadium on Jan. 8, 2000.

Down one to the Bills in the opening round of the AFC playoffs and down to their final 16 seconds, the Titans called "Home Run Throwback," which basically meant tight end Frank Wycheck was going to throw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson on a kickoff and Dyson would run the lateral 75 yards for a touchdown and a win.

Now fast-forward to Sunday, 33 seconds from the end of the first quarter.

Fielding a punt at the Titans 37, Reynaud ran two yards forward, then threw a lateral pass back across the field to Tommie Campbell, who returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.

"Never threw it in high school, never threw it in college, never threw it in my career in the league," Reynaud said. "There was a lot [of pressure]. When they called it, my heart, it just pounded."

The Titans pounded their way into the NFL record book by scoring five times on plays covering 60 yards or more, the fifth of those a 61-yard strike from Locker to Jared Cook in the second quarter.

Yet for all this extraordinary work, it was the Titans defense's unwillingness to surrender a single yard on the game's final snap that delivered Locker his first victory as a starting QB.

Facing a fourth and one at the Tennessee 7 - a Titans field goal on their first possession of overtime had given them a 44-41 lead - Detroit elected to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal that would have tied it at 44.

Schwartz said afterward, "We were going to try to draw them offsides."

But they snapped the ball to Hill, who lost a yard on a sneak, losing the game in the process. Three hours and 51 minutes after it began, it was over, both the Lions and Titans now 1-2 on the year.

Said Munchak of his game-ending meeting with his close friend Schwartz: "We both just looked at each other and said we'd never been through something like this in our lives."