Murray’s third TD rallies Titans over Bengals
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans would prefer not to cut it so close.
But they again showed Sunday that when they have to make plays to pull a tight game out, they are capable of getting the job done.
“As a competitor, you want to be in that situation,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “You want to make the play that helps win the game.”
Mariota did that with 36 seconds left, finding running back DeMarco Murray for the game-winning 7-yard touchdown pass that lifted Tennessee to a 24-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Nissan Stadium.
The play capped a 12-play, 73-yard drive that gave the Titans (6-3) their first four-game winning streak since 2009. Their last three wins have come by a total of 10 points against three AFC North opponents: Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati.
This one came with two different elements in play. Tennessee had to win to keep pace with Jacksonville in the AFC South as the Jaguars edged the Los Angeles Chargers 20-17 in overtime. And it had to score on its final drive.
Cincinnati (3-6) seized the lead with 5:03 remaining when A.J. Green took a short pass from Andy Dalton and turned it into a 70-yard touchdown, breaking a tackle around the Bengals’ 40 and then steaming into the end zone.
There may have been apprehension among the fans, but there was none from Titans players.
“We were going out for the last drive and (defensive tackle) Jurrell Casey says, ‘We need you.’ I said, ‘No worries. We’re going to take care of this.’ It’s just 11 guys going out there and playing ball,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Mariota was sacked four times prior to the final drive, but he got excellent protection when it mattered most. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 53 yards, including consecutive strikes of 10 and 20 yards to Eric Decker and tight end Delanie Walker, respectively, that got the ball to the Cincinnati 30.
The Bengals chipped in a key penalty to aid the march. Backup cornerback Josh Shaw, playing because starter Adam Jones was ruled out with a concussion after the third quarter, committed his third holding infraction of the fourth quarter to wipe out a third-down incompletion. That gave Tennessee a first down at the 20.
It was the last of 12 penalties on Cincinnati for 84 yards.
“Obviously, they’re big,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We just can’t have the penalties.”
A 7-yard run by Mariota put the Titans at the 7 with 50 seconds left. After a pair of incomplete passes, Mariota flipped a swing pass to Murray, who broke a tackle and then stretched the ball just across the goal line for his third touchdown of the day.
Mariota finished the game 25 of 44 for 264 yards with an interception that set up Joe Mixon’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:42 left in the first half. But Tennessee managed a 44-yard field goal from Ryan Succop as time expired to take a 17-13 lead into intermission.
That capped a wild final 6 1/2 minutes of the first half that saw three turnovers, three scores and a breakdown in discipline by Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict. In a three-play span, Burfict was called for two personal fouls, earning an ejection for contacting an official after Mariota scrambled 8 yards to the 1-yard line.
Murray plunged over on the next play for his second rushing score and a 14-6 lead. It was the first ejection in the career of Burfict, who was suspended for the season’s first three games after repeated rules violations.
Murray initiated the scoring on a 2-yard run with 7:56 left in the first quarter, capping a 10-play, 84-yard drive on the Titans’ first possession. Dalton answered back with a 37-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Brandon LaFell at the 4:44 mark, although Randy Bullock hooked the extra point wide left.
That was one in a series of mistakes that, when teamed with Tennessee’s clutch final drive, kept these teams going in opposite directions.
“We just made plays at the end of the game,” Mariota said.
NOTES: For the second straight game, Tennessee LG Quinton Spain (toe) was inactive and replaced by Brian Schwenke. ... Other inactives for the Titans were QB Brandon Weeden, WR Darius Jennings, CB Kalan Reed, DB Curtis Riley, LB Nate Palmer and DE David King. ... Cincinnati inactives were CB KeiVarae Russell, S Shawn Williams, LB Kevin Minter, G Alex Redmond, G Christian Westerman, WR Tyler Boyd and DT Pat Sims.