Miami, FL – What a difference seven days makes.
The Tennessee Titans were embarrassed last week at home against Chicago, but on Sunday welcomed second-year quarterback Jake Locker back to the starting lineup and dominated the Miami Dolphins in a 37-3 rout at Sun Life Stadium.
Locker had been sidelined with a separated left shoulder since Week 4. He didn't put up overwhelming numbers in his return, throwing for 122 yards with a pair of touchdowns on just 9-of-21 efficiency, but the Titans (4-6) moved the ball effectively and took advantage of four Miami turnovers -- three coming on interceptions by the starting linebackers -- to halt a two-game skid heading into their bye week.
Chris Johnson ran for 126 yards with a touchdown in the victory, while Kendall Wright and Jared Cook each caught a scoring pass. Tennessee opened a 21-0 lead just under 16 minutes into this contest, a complete reversal from last Sunday when the Bears raced out to a 28-2 advantage after one quarter en route to a 51-20 blowout -- a defeat that had franchise patriarch Bud Adams "at a loss" to explain.
"I was really proud of everybody for the way we hung together considering how badly things went for us last Sunday," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "We knew how important this game was, and we came out making plays."
The Dolphins (4-5) were coming off a 23-20 loss at Indianapolis last week and suffered their worst setback of the season. Miami's last three losses had all come by just three points -- two in overtime -- after the club opened the season with a 30-10 drubbing at Houston. It was also the team's worst home loss since a 48-3 shellacking by Kansas City on Sept. 28, 1968.
Miami rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 23-of-39 passes for 217 yards with three interceptions -- his first picks since Week 4 in an overtime loss at Arizona. He was replaced by Matt Moore late in the fourth quarter. Reggie Bush managed just 21 yards on the ground and was benched for the majority of the first half after a first-quarter fumble.
"I thought we played better," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "I didn't really see signs of this coming, but, again, you have to hold on to the football."
After a trade of punts to start the contest, Bush fumbled after picking up a Dolphins first down and the Titans recovered at the Miami 28. Tennessee needed just four plays to capitalize, as Johnson ran for 21 yards to set up Locker's 9-yard TD pass to Wright on third down.
Miami's defense was torched last week on third down, allowing Indianapolis to convert 13-of-19 situations. The Titans were nearly as good, finishing 8-of-17 on Sunday.
The Titans made it 14-0 on their next possession with a 65-yard drive helped by a few Miami defensive blunders. Locker fell while trying to fake a handoff on the first play from scrimmage, but quickly got up and scrambled past the flat-footed Dolphins for 20 yards. Facing 4th-and-2 from the Miami 37 soon after, Locker eluded a sure sack and ran five yards to keep the drive alive, and two plays later, Johnson reversed his field after being bottled up and outraced the Miami defense to the end zone for a 17-yard score.
Things went from bad to worse for Miami in the first minute of the second quarter, when Tannehill's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Akeem Ayers and intercepted by Colin McCarthy. Shaken up just a few plays earlier, the linebacker from the University of Miami was able to lumber 49 yards for another score and a 21-0 lead.
The Dolphins answered with a 40-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter, but nearly blew that opportunity. Carpenter missed his initial kick, but the Dolphins had called timeout just before the snap and gave the kicker a second chance.
Tannehill was picked off again late in the second quarter, as Ayers corraled the errant throw inside the Miami 25 for his first career interception. The Titans were unable to pick up a first down, but still tacked on a 37-yard Rob Bironas field goal in the final minute to head to the break with a 24-3 edge.
The Titans took the second-half kickoff and converted four third downs on an 85-yard drive that consumed more than eight minutes, ending with a 26-yard TD strike from Locker to Cook on 3rd-and-15. The Dolphins had recovered a fumble on the prior play, but officials apparently whistled the play dead before the ball came loose and said it was not reviewable.
Miami, literally, never recovered, as Bironas added field goals of 38 and 53 yards -- the latter after a pick by linebacker Zach Brown -- in the fourth quarter.
Johnson recorded his 32nd career 100-yard rushing game and fourth of 2012 ... Johnson became the fourth player in franchise history to reach 8,000 scrimmage yards, joining Eddie George, Earl Campbell and Ernest Givins ... The Dolphins hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Houston's Ben Tate ran for 103 yards in Week 2 of the 2011 season -- a span of 22 games ... McCarthy's interception return for a touchdown was the first for the Titans since Jordan Babineaux last Oct. 2 at Cleveland ... Bironas surpassed Al Del Greco's franchise record of 229 consecutive extra points without a miss ... Miami failed to score a touchdown at home for the first time since Nov. 18, 2010 in a 16-0 loss to Chicago ... The Dolphins have a quick turnaround with a trip to Buffalo for a Thursday night matchup with the Bills.