The Carolina Panthers’ 27-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday would seem to indicate a big defensive game for Carolina.
They held Marcus Mariota, a two-time AFC Player of the Week already in his young career, to 185 passing yards and 10 points, tying his season-low.
But there was only one sack. There was an interception that didn’t lead to any Panthers points.
And tackling machine Luke Kuechly led the team with only eight tackles – the fewest he’s had in full game this season.
“This game wasn’t flashy,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “When you go back and watch the tape, especially the second half, I think people are going to find that people were just assignment sound. You did your job and that’s how it’s supposed to work. Not every time is it going to be five or 10 sacks and picks and stuff like that.”
The Panthers held a 14-10 lead at halftime. Mariota was an efficient 8-for-12 passing, and the Titans’ running game had more yards (56) than league-leading Panthers (44).
Several of Carolina’s key defenders said after the game it wasn’t what the Titans were doing to them so much as what they were doing to themselves.
“We were yelling at each other. We’ve never done that before,” said cornerback Josh Norman, who was targeted just once on a completion of 8 yards. “Stuff that we already saw in practice, we were faking ourselves out more than they were faking us out. We knew what they were running. We just didn’t get a hand on them like we were supposed to. That’s what happens when you play NFL teams.”
Stuff that we already saw in practice, we were faking ourselves out more than they were faking us out. We knew what they were running. We just didn’t get a hand on them like we were supposed to. That’s what happens when you play NFL teams.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, on Carolina’s first-half struggles
The Titans’ second drive of the game resulted in their only touchdown. On third-and-12 from the Tennessee 16 and three-and-out staring the Titans in the face, Mariota found Delanie Walker for a 21-yard reception.
Mariota continued the drive by scrambling for 9 yards on third-and-5 near midfield. And again on third-and-5 from the Carolina 44, Mariota found Anthony Fasano for a 19-yard gain before Dexter McCluster’s 25-yard touchdown rush.
With the tight ends beating them and McCluster using his speed, the Panthers had to tweak some things at halftime.
“We had to make a couple adjustments to keep them inside, to contain, and keep the quarterback inside,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He got after us a couple of times as he took the ball and ran. It was a good football team we played today. Credit to them.”
Also credit to the Panthers, who held the Titans scoreless after halftime. What seemed to turn the tide for Carolina was the Kurt Coleman interception on Tennessee’s first drive of the second half.
Mariota threw deep to Dorial Green-Beckham on third-and-12 with pressure from Thomas Davis. Green-Beckham didn’t run full speed on his route, and the throw looked to be a poor attempt at a throwaway.
Instead, Coleman dived and intercepted the pass. The Panthers’ offense didn’t get points off the turnover, but momentum shifted to Carolina’s favor.
“The quarterback just threw the ball up … what for? And Kurt got that and momentum switched after that,” Norman said. “We came out there and put clamps on them.”
The Panthers’ corners starting pressing the receivers more. Defenders got their hands on the tight ends more at the line of scrimmage to impede them getting into their routes.
The pass rush intensified, even though Mariota continued to get the ball out quickly. The Titans’ offense became more horizontal than vertical.
Later, Fasano dropped a sure third-down conversion and the Titans had to punt from their 20. In the fourth quarter, on a third-and-8, Mariota dropped the snap and recovered it 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing another punt.
There were no Top 10 plays. No one will be NFC Defensive Player of the Week. This was assignment football.
“It was just one of those games where you do your job and get the win,” Allen said.