NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans went from being on record pace for most points allowed in an NFL season to stifling the Miami Dolphins with their best defensive performance in nearly a year.
Now they must prove that was no fluke.
The Titans had allowed at least 30 points in seven of their first nine games and an average of 34.2, which put them on target to pass the 511 points allowed by the Baltimore Colts in 1981. After a 37-3 win in Miami, they still remain on pace for surrendering the most points in franchise history.
Defensive back Jason McCourty hopes a light bulb clicked on and stays on for the rest of the season for the Titans (4-6), who visit Jacksonville (1-9) on Sunday.
"We just looked bad," McCourty said. "We looked like we weren't being coached. Guys didn't know where to be; we weren't making the plays we needed to make. But there's nothing we can do about that now. We've got six more games, and let's do our best to win all six of them and see where we are at the end."
Before the Dolphins game, the defense had been heavily criticized for the poor play, and McCourty said it made players mad.
"You can't get mad at the people saying it because they're just watching the game and calling what they see," McCourty said. "You put bad stuff on tape, and people are going to call you out for it."
They finally did something about it against Miami.
Tennessee forced a season-high four turnovers with each of the starting linebackers picking off a pass, didn't allow a touchdown for the first time since Nov. 13, 2011, and also had two sacks. The 37-3 win trimmed the Titans' average to 31.1 points per game, but they remain on track for a franchise record in points allowed at 497.6.
The turnovers helped the Titans' offense enjoy short fields and turn in a 34-point margin of victory that was Tennessee's biggest on the road since a 47-10 win at Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2008.
"Hopefully that's something we can continue to do," Titans coach Mike Munchak said.
Part of the Titans' improved play came because several key defensive players healed up: tackles Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. Casey played with an injured right elbow, while Marks missed the first two games this season as he recovered from an injured knee. McCarthy has been trying to play through a right ankle he sprained in the opener.
This defense also is very young with six starters in their third NFL season or less. The three starting linebackers include Akeem Ayers and McCarthy in their second season, while Zach Brown is a rookie. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said they didn't have any big mental errors in Miami. Players weren't trying to do more than their own job against the Dolphins, either.
"A lot of times young guys seem to think they have to put a Superman cape on to be a football player, and you don't," Gray said. "If you do your job to the best of your ability, more than nine out of 10 times you're probably going to be right. That's all we ask you to do. We're not asking you to make great plays, just make your plays."
The Titans should have a chance to show they can be consistently stingy on defense on Sunday in Jacksonville, at least. The Jaguars rank last in the NFL in total offense, managing just 283 yards, and are 29th with 16.4 points per game.
Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey has noticed the Titans' defensive improvement.
"At this time of year, you want to see progress, and I see that from that team," Mularkey said. "Defensively, you know, Miami's played well this year, and to go down there and hold them to three points and get four turnovers, pretty much a dominant performance. I see improvement, and that's what you want from your team, and Mike (Munchak's) getting that."
Notes: TE Craig Stevens (hamstring) practiced Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. McCarthy was held back a bit. RB Jamie Harper (ankle) and S Al Alfalava (ankle) did not practice. LB Xavier Adibi (knee) was limited.
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