Chiefs-Titans: What we learned

Matt Rybaltowski, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


NASHVILLE - The Kansas City Chiefs kept their perfect record intact with a 26-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on Sunday.
The team is barely recognizable compared to the 2-14 Chiefs' team of a year ago. That is by design.
Throughout his illustrious coaching career, Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid has found a way to uncover some of the league's hidden gems.
Reid's latest project: Marcus Cooper, an unheralded rookie out of Rutgers.
Leading 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, Cooper jumped a comeback intended for Nate Washington and wrestled the ball away from the Titans' veteran wide receiver for a game-changing interception. The Chiefs held on and improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2003.
Operating out of a bunch set Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick targeted Washington, a dependable veteran regarded for his ability to run crisp routes. It was a play Cooper studied this week in a defensive film session.
"We saw a bunch set, that's something they like to do," Cooper said. "I was just able to go and get a jump on it."
Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. He completed 21 of 41 passes and was the team's leading rusher with 50 yards on six carries.
Cooper, who was released by the 49ers during final cuts in the preseason, forced two turnovers including a pivotal touchdown in the first quarter.
The Chiefs took the lead for good on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamaal Charles with 6:27 left. Aided by a late-hit penalty on Titans linebacker Moise Fokou, Kansas City went 66 yards on 10 plays during the game-winning drive. Kansas City preserved the win with two interceptions and a pair of field goals by Ryan Succop in the final three minutes.
On a rainy afternoon in Nashville, the sloppy affair featured a combined five turnovers and 15 penalties between the teams. The Chiefs and Titans entered this week tied for a league-high plus-9 turnover margin.
After going four weeks without committing a turnover, it took the Titans less than five minutes to cough up the ball on Sunday. While setting a block for punt returner Darius Reynaud, a knuckling ball caromed off Titans wide receiver Damian Williams' foot, bounced toward the end zone and was gathered by Cooper, who rolled in for a 2-yard touchdown. Cooper alertly pounced on the ball before a member of the Titans' coverage team could retrieve it.
"I didn't even see the other guy," Cooper said. "I just saw the ball - it might have been tunnel vision."

What the Titans said
"As far as early when you make a change you know it is going to affect your football team, you just don't know how. You don't lose a quarterback and come out the next week, you move forward. It was hard." -- Coach Mike Munchak

What the Chiefs said
"You have to threaten them with the style of defense they are playing. It's a give and take and you have to be able make the plays. It's such a fine line playing that kind of defense, they are jamming you, pressing you outside and bringing pressure. You really have to be on top of it." -- Quarterback Alex Smith

What we learned about the Chiefs
1. Donnie Avery has regained the explosive, straight-line he showcased early in his career. Slowed by a season-ending torn ACL in the 2010 preseason, Avery had only three catches for 45 yards the following year in his only season with the Titans. On Sunday, Avery torched his former team with a game-high 91 receiving yards on three catches. Two of Avery's catches came on fly patterns for at least 40 yards each.
2. Alex Smith is a cool customer with the game on the line. Before Sunday, the Chiefs were not tested when they built a double-digit lead in three of their four victories. Smith showed little panic when he orchestrated a 10-play, 66-yard game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter. Smith, who entered Sunday with a 51.9 completion percentage on passes of at least 10 yards, demonstrated his arm strength on two deep passes to Donnie Avery.

What we learned about the Titans
1. The importance of Jake Locker. In Ryan Fitzpatrick's first start with the Titans, the former Bills' quarterback had his timing off with his receivers, appeared indecisive and struggled with his accuracy. At the 8:48 mark of the second quarter, Fitzpatrick had completed only 1 of 9 attempts for four yards. Fitzpatrick finished 21 of 41 for 247 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Through the first four weeks of the season, Locker quietly put together some of the top numbers among AFC quarterbacks. Entering Week 5, Locker ranked sixth in the NFL in passing efficiency according to Pro Football Focus.

2. Tennessee must win the turnover battle if it hopes to contend for a playoff spot. While the Titans forced two turnovers on Sunday, Mike Munchak's team finished with a negative turnover margin for the first time this season. Titans' cornerback Alterraun Verner, who entered Sunday's game with a league-high six turnovers forced, could have added two more on a pair of dropped interceptions.

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