NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans’ much-maligned defense used a national showcase Monday night to earn a measure of redemption.
Tennessee’s defense forced five turnovers by Mark Sanchez and continually bailed out its struggling offense and special teams in a 14-10 victory over the New York Jets. With their own playoff hopes long gone, the Titans (5-9) relished the opportunity to end the Jets’ postseason hopes and snap a three-game skid.
“You’ve got to keep making them make turnovers,” said Titans linebacker Zach Brown, who sealed the win by recovering Sanchez’s fumble at the Tennessee 32-yard line with 43 seconds remaining. “For us, we were thinking, they’re giving the ball away so we’ve got to go get it. It’s not going to come to us. We’ve got to go get it.”
Chris Johnson had a 94-yard touchdown for the longest run in franchise history and Jake Locker put the Titans ahead for good with a 13-yard quarterback keeper late in the third quarter, but the defense carried Tennessee most of the night.
The Titans entered the weekend having allowed 29.9 points per game to rank 31st out of 32 NFL teams in scoring defense, ahead of only the Oakland Raiders. But the Titans played winning defense Monday and produced their highest takeaway total of the season.
New York’s only touchdown came on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez to Jeff Cumberland in the third quarter after Brett Kern’s 30-yard punt allowed the Jets to begin a drive at the Tennessee 35. Sanchez otherwise had a dreadful night with four interceptions and one fumble.
Sanchez turned the ball over on each of New York’s last three possessions. After throwing four interceptions earlier in the night, Sanchez wasted New York’s final opportunity by fumbling a low shotgun snap after another shanked punt by Kern had given the Jets the ball at the Titans 25 with 47 seconds left.
“It doesn’t feel good hurting your team like that,” Sanchez said. “It’s not a winning formula. It never feels good.”
Plenty of Titans defenders took turns harassing Sanchez.
Two days after his fiancee gave birth to a daughter, Titans cornerback Jason McCourty picked off two of Sanchez’s passes to double his season interception total.
“It’s been hectic, but this is what we do,” McCourty said. “Once you get out there on the field on Monday Night Football, it’s like everything just clicks. This is what you do. This is what you’re used to. This is the environment where you relax.”
Titans safety Michael Griffin also had two interceptions after picking off just one pass in Tennessee’s first 13 games.
Brown, a second-round draft pick out of North Carolina, entered with 2½ sacks thus far in his rookie season. He had two more sacks Monday — one on Sanchez and one on backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
Sanchez has 24 turnovers this year and 50 total in the past two seasons combined.
Jets coach Rex Ryan wasn’t ready to say who his quarterback will be Sunday when the Jets host San Diego.
“I’ve just got to prepare as the starter and see what happens,” Sanchez said.
The Jets (6-8) needed to win their final three games and get help elsewhere to earn a playoff spot. Instead, the Titans sacked Sanchez three times and got a fourth on Tebow.
“Obviously, it’s a devastating loss, out of the playoffs, and it hurts beyond belief,” Ryan said. “I think the thing that really hurts the most is we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.”
Johnson, with the names of the victims of Friday’s shootings in Connecticut written on his cleats, went 94 yards for a TD in the second quarter. Johnson said he followed a block by center Kyle DeVan, the Titans’ latest player at the position after replacement Kevin Matthews sprained his right ankle.
Locker’s 13-yard run around left end put the Titans (5-9) ahead 14-10 with 20 seconds left in the third.
Griffin intercepted Sanchez with 7:09 left on a pass intended for Braylon Edwards. On the next drive, the Jets got help from a personal foul when Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon hit Sanchez in the head with his helmet on third-and-4. A couple of plays later, Sanchez threw into triple coverage for Cumberland, and Griffin picked off Sanchez again with 1:51 left at the Titans 2.
“We knew coming into the game they were going to pound the ball,” McCourty said. “We knew when they put the ball in the air, we were going to have opportunities to make plays.”
Instead of trying to establish their ground attack, the Jets threw the ball more often than McCourty expected — and the Titans’ ball-hawking secondary made the most of their opportunities.
Notes: The Titans’ previous record for the longest run in franchise history was 91 yards, a mark shared by Johnson and Sid Blanks. Johnson had a 91-yard run against the Houston Texans in 2009. Blanks also did it against the Jets on Dec. 13, 1964. … The Jets had won the last two and four of the past five meetings between the teams.