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Browns' late rally falls short in 28-26 loss to Titans

By Teresa M. Walker | Associated Press Published: October 17, 2016 4:00 AM
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andre Johnson grabbed the ball going out of bounds on Cleveland's second onside kick within two minutes, finally allowing the Tennessee Titans to relax.

It's the kind of winning play the Titans simply haven't made enough in recent years on their own field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, and the Titans held on to beat the Cleveland Browns 28-26 Sunday for their second straight victory -- the first time they've won consecutive games since the end of the 2013 season.

"I'm not sure in the last couple years that we win that game," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "This year we found a way to win the game. Obviously, we don't want to make it that close. We did a lot of good things in that game."

Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, knocked out of last week's game with an injured chest, was sacked six times by Tennessee. The third-round draft pick out of Southern California threw for a career-high 336 yards and also had two TD passes, both to former Ohio State star Terrelle Pryor.

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"Unless they force me to stay out like they did last week, I'm not coming out," Kessler said. "It was a little painful, but at the same time you want to do it for the guys as well. It's not for myself, it's for the guys around me."

The Browns are off to their worst start since 1999 when they lost their first seven as an expansion franchise.

"He's battling his butt off out there," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said of Kessler. "There were a couple times where he took some really big hits scrambling on fourth down trying to make plays and you're thinking, 'Wow, he won't be able to get up from that,' and (he) pops right back up and gets right back in the huddle like nothing happened. And that's really admirable."

Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said the rookie played hard.

"He gave us a chance to win, to be in the game," Jackson said.

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Pryor made it clear he loves playing with Kessler and the rookie's passion, especially with all the hits the quarterback took.

"He's a warrior," Pryor said. "That's what pushes us all. I took a little hit as well and it makes you just keep pushing. He was getting creamed, man, and he just got up and kept fighting. The kid has unbelievable heart. I'm a big fan of his."

The Titans (3-3), meanwhile, matched their win total for all of last season when they went 3-13 and wound up with the No. 1 draft pick overall. They also beat a team other than Jacksonville on their own field for the first time since the 2013 season finale and improved to 3-16 in Nashville .

Cleveland (0-6) now is mired in its worst start since 1999 when the Browns lost their first seven as an expansion franchise.

Not that the Titans care after losing to the Browns each of the past two seasons, especially with the Browns nearly pulling off another thrilling comeback. They made NFL history here in 2014 rallying from 25 points down to win.

This time, they trailed 28-13 when Kessler hit Pryor for a 5-yard TD with 2:07 left, but his pass on the 2-point conversion failed. Jackson defended his decision to go for 2 so early.

"I knew at some point I was going to have to take a whack at it," Jackson said. "Obviously, we didn't make it, then had to kick and try to get the onside. Gave ourselves a chance at that time. That was what we needed to do."

The Browns recovered their first onside kick, and Duke Johnson Jr. scored nine plays later.

On their second onside kick, Johnson got his hands on the ball as it went out of bounds for Tennessee. Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright said he wasn't too worried.

"They onside kicked it to a Hall of Famer," Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright said of Johnson.


The Titans opened the game with a 75-yard drive capped by an 11-yard TD pass from Mariota to Rishard Matthews. That was their first opening TD drive since the season opener of 2015. A big key was Mariota who showed just how fast he is on the Titans' first play from scrimmage as he kept the ball and went 41 yards up the Browns' sideline.


Tennessee's longest touchdown pass of the season was a 30-yarder in Week 2 as the Titans rallied to beat Detroit 16-15. Mariota topped that with a 48-yard pass to Kendall Wright in the second quarter. Wright stretched out and dove for the ball, landing around the 5 and sliding near the 2 before getting up and into the end zone as he was hit. Wright finished with eight catches for 133 yards.


Browns defensive back Jordan Poyer was taken to a Nashville hospital with a lacerated kidney and possible concussion after a being crushed on a block when chasing down Titans returner Marc Mariani when Antonio Andrews hit him, knocking Poyer to the ground with 6:33 left in the second quarter. Andrews was flagged and penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the blindside hit.

The hit left Poyer bent over on the grass for a few minutes before he walked to the sideline. He was carted to the locker room and then to a local hospital. "Obviously, we all know that's pretty serious, so we'll see where he is from there," Jackson said.

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