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Titans building confidence, momentum with 3 straight wins

October 1, 2018
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Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) celebrates with offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (77) after Davis caught the winning touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. The Titans won 26-23. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Vrabel has been preaching about playing aggressive from the moment he arrived in Tennessee.

A month into the season, the Titans are doing just.

At 3-1, the Titans are off to their best start since 2013 under their first-year head coach, having won three straight — each by three points.

Now Vrabel has a team that just got a big confidence boost from a 26-23 overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.

“We’re trying to build our reputation as a team and a player on what we’re doing and what we will do as opposed to what we’ve done,” Vrabel said.

Vrabel already has made it clear he’ll gamble on his Titans, going for it on fourth down more than anyone in the NFL. The Titans have executed, converting five of seven attempts. Three of those came on their game-winning drive in overtime .

The Titans converted a fourth-and-15 with Marcus Mariota completing a 19-yard pass. They picked up first down on fourth-and-4 on defensive pass interference. Facing fourth-and-2 with Ryan Succop lining up for a 50-yard field goal attempt and a tie, Vrabel put the offense back out, and Mariota hit Dion Lewis for a 17-yard completion. Three plays later, Mariota found Corey Davis for the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s great moment, and it’s also building great chemistry,” linebacker Will Compton said. “Guys are believing and leaning on each other and playing complimentary football. The coach believing in us like that, going for it and not kicking the field goal, putting the offense back out there believing in them. It’s a lot of momentum and chemistry for our football team.”

Vrabel rewarded the Titans with a day off Monday and game balls all around.

The last time the Titans started 3-1, they finished 7-9 and Mike Munchak was fired for not making changes on his coaching staff.

Vrabel is the Titans’ third different coach since that season, and they visit Buffalo (1-3) on Sunday sitting atop the AFC South with a tiebreaker in hand over Jacksonville. This starts a challenging stretch with five of the next seven games on the road, not that rookie coach is too worried about keeping the Titans focused.

“It’s easy to explain to these guys and show them if you don’t play well in this league — I don’t care where you play, I don’t care who you play, you lose,” Vrabel said. “That’s the NFL.”

The Titans have areas to improve. The run game has been nonexistent except for Mariota facing the likes of Houston, Jacksonville and now Philadelphia. The defense can harass and sack quarterbacks, but they rank 25th against the run giving up 118 yards a game. Safety Kenny Vaccaro will miss “a few weeks” with an injured right elbow, a position where Tennessee already lost starter Johnathan Cyprien to a torn left ACL in August.

But against the Eagles, Mariota just started and finished his first game this year after being knocked out of the season opener with an injury to his right elbow. He missed a start and came off the bench in Jacksonville for a 9-6 win.

He threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia, while running for a team-high 46 yards and another score. In the second half and overtime, Mariota was 19 of 25 for 198 yards with two TDs, no interceptions and a 125.1 passer rating.

“When you can execute in the most critical situations,” Vrabel said, “you have a chance.”

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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