MIAMI — Tennessee Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy rose slowly after a violent hit and wobbled as he left the field. Three plays later he was back in the game and in the end zone, celebrating a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown.
McCarthy and his team’s embattled defense bounced back Sunday, when their four takeaways led to 20 points and helped the Titans beat the Miami Dolphins 37-3.
The Titans came into the game on pace to set an NFL record for points allowed in a season, but they stymied Miami by intercepting passes by Ryan Tannehill three times and recovering a fumble by Reggie Bush to set up a touchdown.
“It was a huge win,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “It was exactly what we needed.”
Tennessee (4-6) rebounded from a 51-20 defeat a week ago against the Bears that prompted owner Bud Adams to put the organization on notice. The Titans trailed that game 28-2 after one quarter; this week they led 21-0 after 16 minutes.
For the Dolphins, the loss was their most lopsided at home since 1968, and their worst anywhere since January 2000.
“I didn’t really see signs of this coming,” coach Joe Philbin said. “Obviously we need to do better, and it starts with me.”
Two benchings by Philbin failed to shake the Dolphins (4-5) out of their malaise. Bush spent most of the first half on the sideline after his early fumble, and guard Richie Incognito sat briefly after committing a costly personal foul penalty.
“It was a dumb mistake on my part,” Incognito said.
“I was benched, and I deserved it,” Bush said. “If I’m a coach, I would have benched myself too.”
With 20 minutes left, the stands were two-thirds empty, and the only remaining drama was whether Chris Johnson would become the first rusher to gain 100 yards against Miami in the past 23 games. He reached the milestone late in the third period and finished with 126 yards in 23 carries and one score.
Tannehill’s six-week streak without an interception ended at 107 passes when Akeem Ayers deflected a throw to McCarthy, who sprinted along the sideline to score for a 21-0 lead. McCarthy had just returned to the game after he aggravated a lingering ankle injury.
“I just needed to settle down a little bit,” he said. “I got turned a little bit. I just had to take a couple plays off, but I got back in there.”
Tannehill went 23 for 39 but had a passer rating of only 42.4. What did the rookie learn?
“Don’t throw it to the other team,” Philbin said.
Jake Locker, back after missing five games with a dislocated non-throwing shoulder, went only 9 of 21 for 122 yards but threw for touchdowns covering 9 yards to Kendall Wright and 26 yards to Jared Cook.
Locker also ran for three first downs and helped Tennessee convert nine of 18 third- and fourth-down situations.
The Titans didn’t commit a turnover after totaling five a week ago, while they had an interception from each starting linebacker — McCarthy, Ayers and Zach Brown.
“That was fun to see,” Munchak said.
The tone was established early, when Jason McCourty recovered a fumble by Bush at the Dolphins’ 28, and Tennessee converted the turnover into a touchdown.
“Our defense put us in some good situations all day,” Locker said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we found ways to move the chains.”
The Titans even transformed pratfalls into big plays. Locker tripped as he dropped back to pass and fell 10 yards behind the line, then rose and scrambled to transform the broken play into a 20-yard gain. Four snaps later, Locker converted a fourth down with another scramble, and Johnson then scored on a 17-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
Ayers made his first career interception to set up a field goal for a 24-3 halftime lead. There was no letup in the second half by the Titans, who opened the third period with an eight-minute, 85-yard touchdown drive.
“It was embarrassing, to say the least,” Miami defensive end Cameron Wake said. “There’s no explanation, no excuse.”
NOTES: Tennessee’s Rob Bironas set a franchise record for most consecutive extra points without a miss, breaking Al Del Greco’s mark. Bironas has made 232 in a row. … The loss was the worst at home for the Dolphins since they were beaten in their third season 48-3 by Kansas City. … The Titans trimmed their defensive scoring average from 34.2 points per game to 31.1. They’re no longer on an NFL-record pace. … Tennessee played volleyball in the first quarter when Kenny Britt and Wright dropped the same pass.