Welcome to the Titans’ Cul De Sac: Tailgating for the Home Opener

On Sunday, the usual plan is I get up, I exercise, my parents go to church, they make me a big breakfast and we head to the Titans game, arriving with about 15 minutes to spare before kickoff. This week I decided to switch up and meet with Josh Gunnels, who promised a parking pass near the stadium, grilling, and one of those cooler things to put beer in. I drove over to East Nashville, aka Hipsterville, and walked over.

The scene was pretty impressive. There were many funky vehicles with the Titan logo, and tons of large groups huddled around a giant grills, the type you see at BBQ contests. Josh was a little behind, but I was OK because I had my mixed sixer of Nashville beers and the all-important opener. I started with a Blackstone Nut Brown Ale. Eventually I met Josh, his friend Jeff and Jeff’s daughter Bella. There’s no better father-daughter bonding instrument than tossing a pink football. A crowd eventually gathered around the truck, as Josh worked his mini grill and people helped themselves to beer or Michelob Ultra.

I had a brief chat with Music City Miracles’ own Danomite and his diminished beard (his powers seem intact), but it was Josh’s mom who was the main target of the gathering. It was her, not Josh’s dad, who was the fantasy football die hard. We may need a support group for men who invite women into their fantasy leagues and can’t handle the truth. I love the tales of leagues, and she’s been in one for years.

Four beers and one cheeseburger later, I headed in to watch the season opener. One thing I love heading into football contests is the collection of unusual jerseys. I saw a Donnie Nickey, a long-term special-teams guy who seemed to be with the team about three years too long. One guy wore a Joseph Addai, which made perfect sense. Why someone wears a jersey of a team that’s not involved is beyond me.

Let’s talk about the game. There was a tough start, as the Titans’ offense went three and out, a pathetic effort at that, and the Chargers drove down the field with no difficulties, culminating in a TD pass from Rivers to Gates. Zach Brown even swiped at the ball but Gates held on. In the first three games of the season, the Titans have given up a drive to the Steelers who fumbled into the end zone and two TDs by the Texans and Chargers. Otherwise, the D is pretty solid.

The Titans were able to drive down the field and made it as far as the two-yard line before failing on a Battle plunge and an out pass to Delanie Walker that Eric Weddle timed perfectly, hitting him in a way that ensured no TD.

The second quarter turned on a play by the punter. Brett Kern took a snap to his left, not terribly off but not dead center and fumbled it. The Chargers piled on top of him so they had the ball in Titan territory instead of inside their own 10. A pass interference penalty moved the ball inside the three-yard line. After Ryan Mathews got stuffed (big shock there), Eddie Royale with Cheese was wide open for a TD. Problem was, Keenan Allen was called for a pick. Here comes my second-favorite moment of the day. Philip Rivers is a complete whiny tool. As the referees, who had no fans in the stands with their calls, conferred, Rivers butted in. The ref told him to butt out, the crowd booed him and he made a hand gesture in return. It was not an obscene gesture. Rivers earned the flag. I’ve never seen a QB get flagged like this, and it was glorious. The Chargers had a second and goal from the 30, and they had to settle for a field goal.

The Titans’ first scoring drive was 100% on the ground. Locker had a couple of runs and CJFUk had a few. On the second drive, Locker had to throw. It was Wright, Walker, and Washington on the receiving end. Inside the five-yard-line, CJ was in the game, which was a rarity. Locker took the snap, hesitated and ran for the left corner. The cornerback acted like it was Peyton Manning or Tom Brady rushing past him, like he had no idea that Locker could run so fast. The Chargers made a push at the end of the half, thanks in part by a PI penalty on an interception by Michael Griffin. Their resulting field goal attempt was blocked.

The second half was pretty boring. The Chargers got their second TD of the day on a Ronnie Brown run (they so hate Ryan Mathews). OK, so the defense has one bad drive per half. That’s pretty solid. The problem with the Titans offense was that it could get a first down or two but there wasn’t the huge splash play so drives would peter out. Rob Bironas missed a field goal in the third quarter and made one midway through the fourth. The Chargers got conservative when they needed a first down or two to clinch the game. Philip Rivers went 20-24 for the day and the Chargers went run, run, run. The Titans started 94 yards from victory with just over two minutes to go.

Jake Locker needed this drive. He’s been viewed as a guy who the team wants to be the guy but to date, hasn’t quite been the guy. On the final drive, he was the drive. It started on the same end as the Vince Young 99-yard drive in the 2009 game against the Cardinals. Unlike that drive, Locker didn’t need any fourth down conversions. Locker went 7-10 on that drive, including a spike.

Locker went deep down the middle to Delanie Walker. A catch would have put the Titans inside the 15-yard-line with more than 40 seconds to go. Walker tipped the ball into the safety’s hands but smartly knocked the ball out. Locker was unfazed and hit Nate for 11 yards. Wow, was Nate Washington good today. He had 8 catches for 131 yards and two close plays that were reviewed, possibly not the best challenges but fairly close.

With about 30 seconds to go and 34 yards from pay dirt, I told my dad that the Titans should take a deep shot. They had time for maybe one more middle-of-the-field catch and a spike before it was all end zone, and it made sense to take that shot before the defense adjusted. Damian Williams ran a post and was wide open. He was overthrown. This was the second bad beat of the drive. It’s not easy to overcome a mistake like that. I expected something short, probably in the middle of the field and short of the first down. Instead, the Titans went four vertical and Locker went for the best matchup on the field, Justin Hunter. The rookie made the catch with a little veteran pushing off to give him the smallest amount of space. There was no doubt. He made the catch, and much like the Kenny Britt on the game-finishing TD pass from Vince Young, the crowd erupted.

Could this be the beginning of a beautiful connection? The game ended on an underrated play, the catch and pitch play that ends up further back than where the play started. Seven laterals later, Rivers put a capper on the game by kicking the ball in frustration.

I love openers like this. I’ll be back in two weeks for Titans/Chiefs.

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