Can we now agree these 2021 Tennessee Titans are more than Derrick Henry running over people for 2,000 rushing yards in a season?
If there was a question about that being true, the Titans traveled to Los Angeles on Sunday night to play one of the NFL’s best teams, the Los Angeles Rams, and used a stifling defense, timely passing, and even a game-clinching touchdown run to prove their point.
“We’ve moved on since Derrick,” Vrabel told reporters afterward. “We knew he wasn’t going to be with us early in the week. I felt like the guys responded, had a great week, coaches got players ready who weren’t ready. And they played in the game and made plays to help us win.”
The Titans have clearly come a long way from their 38-13 season-opening loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and it’s inexplicable how they lost to the New York Jets — two losses with Henry in the lineup.
But this victory seemed to be an exponential improvement even on big recent wins against Kansas City and the Buffalo Bills.
This was Tennessee’s best victory of the season so far.
“We’re better now than what we were to start the season,” Vrabel said, “and that’s the most important thing in the National Football League, that you find ways to continue to improve and you find ways to win. But along the way, you have to find a way to get better because if you don’t, you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.
“There’s a lot of teams that are going to continue to improve, and we have to be one of those.”
The Rams didn’t score their lone touchdown of the game until 24 seconds remained to play. So, as they say in Tennessee, that was a woodshed whippin’ by the defense.
Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons collected three sacks and four QB hurries.
Safety Kevin Byard had an interception return for a touchdown and three tackles.
And defensive end Denico Autry had 1.5 sacks and one QB hurry.
Rams quarterback Matt Stafford came into the game with 22 TD passes and only 4 interceptions. He managed only one late TD pass and threw those 2 interceptions that set the tone of the game in Tennessee’s favor.
“The impact the front had and the pressures,” Vrabel said, “it forced him into some bad decisions.
“I think that group is playing with a lot of confidence right now to be able to come in here and play the way they did, and hold them to field goals and play great in the red zone.”
And I know what the skeptics might say: The Titans are incomplete without Henry or a great passing game.
So they don’t look like a champion.
Well, no, they’re not beautiful to behold with a quarterback who isn’t among the best or relying on that brutish physical approach to win. They are, in fact, kind of ugly in how they approach this winning business.
But championships aren’t always won by teams with great quarterbacks and soaring passing games that make the game seem beautiful.
The New York Giants proved that in 1990-91.
The Baltimore Ravens proved it in 2000-01.
The New England Patriots proved it in 2001-02.
None of those teams were classic beauties, and the Giants and Patriots, for example, beat teams that looked great and threw the ball beautifully and scored a ton of points. But it didn’t matter for those ugly teams that took a different approach.
And, I remind you, the Denver Broncos didn’t win the Super Bowl in the 2013-14 season when Peyton Manning and his offense broke all those records. They won it in the 2015-16 season when Manning could barely throw but the defense was ferocious.
So dismiss this team at your own risk.
The Titans are 6-0 against teams that made the playoffs last year. They accomplished that feat losing offensive linemen, defensive linemen, even Derrick Henry — as the 77 players they’ve been forced to use so far to overcome the injuries is the most in the NFL.
And now the Titans have the best record in the AFC and have the NFL’s easiest schedule the remainder of the season.
So, again, can we agree the Tennessee Titans are more than Derrick Henry?
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero