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Early Games Work Overtime to Deliver Drama
The late Steve Sabol must have wanted to make his exit accompanied by a well-stocked highlight reel, because Week 3 produced enough fantastic finishes to fill an NFL Films documentary.
Let's start with the most amazing NFL game in my memory (and I'm pretty old): Tennessee's 44-41 overtime win over Detroit, which featured enough answered prayers to astound Mother Teresa.
With the season hanging in the balance, with the good ship Titan cruising toward an iceberg, the Titans picked the perfect time to unleash their arsenal of big plays. The only thing missing was the Stanford band as the Titans confounded the Lions with the most amazing onslaught of game-changers that we've seen in this young NFL season. The Titans scored their five touchdowns on plays of 65, 61, 105, 71 and 72 yards, in every way imaginable:
• A home run-throwback punt return, a la the Music City Miracle, with Tommie Campbell playing the role of Kevin Dyson.
• A 61-yard Jake Locker-to-Jared Cook scoring strike, with Cook doing an admirable Jerry Rice impression on his catch and run.
• Biggest of all, a 105-yard kickoff return by electric return man Darius Reynaud, when the Lions had climbed back to take a 27-20 lead.
• A 71-yard touchdown pass from Locker to Nate Washington, whose acrobatic grab is the early leader for catch of the season.
• Finally, an Alterraun Verner strip of Brandon Pettigrew and subsequent 72-yard return for a touchdown.
The Titans needed every one of those big plays, because the Lions countered with a game-tying Hail Mary from backup Shaun Hill to Titus Young on the final play of regulation that followed a successful onside kick. That's right — the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation, both of them thrown by Matthew Stafford's backup. Hill, who finished his limited work with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Undaunted, the Titans put together a field goal drive in OT to end a game that featured 85 points, 950 yards of offense and touchdowns via offense, defense, special teams and answered prayer. The Lions answered with a 70-yard drive of their own, but coach Jim Schwartz didn't trot out 90-year-old kicker Jason Hanson when the drive stalled, and Hill was stuffed by Jurrrell Casey on a fourth-down quarterback sneak at the Titans 10 to end the four-hour track meet.
Only an inept crew of scab refs prevents this game from going right into the time capsule. And to think — much of the crowd had left after Verner's TD, meaning that they missed the last 17 points of this instant classic.
• Two other games went to overtime — Jets-Dolphins and Chiefs-Saints. Kansas City stunned the reeling Saints in the Superdome, scoring the game's final 21 points on a 91-yard Jamaal Charles run, a safety and four Ryan Succop field goals, the last one a 31-yard game-winner. The Jets overcame some laughable quarterback play to beat the Dolphins 23-20. Neither starting quarterback — New York's Mark Sanchez or Miami's Ryan Tannehill — touched 50 percent completions.
• The Vikings stunned the NFL's best team, drilling the 49ers 24-13 behind a nearly flawless performance from Christian Ponder, who threw for two TDs and scored another on a spectacular 23-yard scramble.
• Greg Schiano tried to blow up another kneel-down, and once again, the ploy failed. But Schiano's continuing refusal to play by this unwritten rule is somehow refreshing.
• The Bears and Rams went against type for the day, displaying offensive ineptitude and defensive dominance in a 23-6 Bears win. Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford combined for 0 TD passes and two interceptions.
• Andy Dalton outdueled Robert Griffin III as the Bengals beat the Redskins 38-31. Dalton threw for 328 yards and three scores.