Titans' 2018 superlatives: Best outfit, coolest venue, most likely to be Batman

Erik Bacharach
The Tennessean
Fans reach for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) after the team's 26-22 win over the Jets on Dec. 2 at Nissan Stadium.

Well that was quite the ride, huh?

The Titans’ 2018 season included posting a shutout and getting shut out, injuries galore, improbable wins, infuriating losses, a trip overseas and, ultimately, no trip to the playoffs.

With a whirlwind 16-game slate behind us, it’s time to hand out some superlatives. Strap in.

Most recurring word: stinger

By now Titans fans know that it’s a nerve-related injury that causes pain and numbness from the neck down one arm, that it’s a tricky ailment and its effects vary from person to person, and that you definitely don’t want your quarterback to endure one, let alone several.

Marcus Mariota suffered stingers in Week 11 and Week 16, the latter of which prompted him to miss the regular-season finale. He also suffered an elbow injury that caused damage to his ulnar nerve in Week 1. At least all of Nashville learned a new vocabulary word.

Best video game performance: Derrick Henry

Sometimes the performance is just too good. Sometimes it leaves "Madden" no choice.

Such was the case in early December. About 16 hours after Derrick Henry's 99-yard touchdown run in Week 14 that featured several Jaguars defenders being thrown to the ground like rag dolls, the popular video game upped Henry's stiff-arm rating from 87 to 99, the highest possible figure.

Notable runner-up for this superlative: Kevin Byard. After the safety's 66-yard touchdown pass to Dane Cruikshank in Week 2, "Madden" upgraded Byard's throwing power from 26 to 44. Only fair, considering it was the longest touchdown pass by a defensive player in the Super Bowl era and gave Byard a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.


Best recreation of Derrick Henry’s 99-yard run: Tecmo Bowl 

I’ll level with you: I had to Google “Tecmo Bowl" after all the Henry madness in Week 14. Disappointing, I know. I’m blaming my Millennial-ness. But as a modern-day video game connoisseur, I still have plenty of appreciation for an eight-bit version of Henry’s heroics. A historic run demanded a recreation ripped from one of history’s favorite pages.


Most likely to be a crime-fighting vigilante: Mike Vrabel

Look, I’m not explicitly saying coach Mike Vrabel is Batman. But after this unprompted one-liner from the Titans coach on a joyous day dedicated to giving thanks, I also can’t sit here and confidently deny it, either: “The NFL, much like crime, knows no holidays.”

Best heartfelt performance: Dennis Kelly

Earlier in Week 15, his father died. So Dennis Kelly flew back to the Chicago area on a Monday to be with his family for his father's wake that Tuesday. After the funeral on Wednesday, the 6-foot-8, 321-pound offensive tackle was back at Titans practice on Thursday. And on Sunday of Week 15, he was filling in for injured starting right tackle Jack Conklin with incredible success; he was Pro Football Focus' second-highest graded offensive player for the Titans in their win against the Giants.

"I think given the situation he had to deal with before the game, it’s hard to even put myself in those shoes," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "It’d be tough. It’d be really hard, but he played a great game. I’m really proud of him."

Worst piece of equipment: Daren Bates’ boombox

You’re aware of it because you heard the loud, expletive-laden tunes it blasted during the overwhelming majority of locker room interviews you watched this season.

It was Daren Bates’ boombox. And it was irritating.

There’s a scene in the 1999 masterpiece “Office Space” in which the protagonists, fed up with the maddeningly frustrating ineptitude of their office printer, take the piece of equipment to a field in the middle of nowhere to destroy with a baseball bat and even a couple of bare-knuckle punches. At one point or another this season, every member of the Titans press corps wanted to go the bare-knuckle route on Bates’ hunk of metal.

Had a postseason run prolonged the season another couple of weeks, one of us might have cracked.

Best celebration: Kevin Byard channels T.O. in Dallas

The “Remember the Titans” dance after the Redskins game in Week 16 was great. A little sloppy on the coordination, but once it got rolling, the execution was solid.

Still, Byard’s celebration after his interception in their Week 9 game in Dallas – in which Byard paid homage to Terrell Owens by running to the star logo at midfield and raising his hands – was as bold as it was momentum-swinging for a team that was desperately in need of a big-time play.


Most underappreciated: Brett Kern

It's in this category that punters across the country have a chance to earn some recognition, but it’s especially true in Nashville. Brett Kern finished the season with 16 straight punts inside the 20-yard line. Sixteen! The Titans had a chance for postseason contention on the final day of the regular season thanks in no small part to the guy who continually flipped the field with incredible precision.

Da real MVP: @NashSevereWx

Kern will attest to this, too. @NashSevereWx, a Twitter account with about 156,000 followers, was the trusted source for weather forecasts on game days. Kern and kicker Ryan Succop especially benefited from kicking-specific forecasts.

Best tagline: For the boys

When the Titans won a game, it was for the boys. When they put forth a good effort in practice? For the boys. When anyone did literally anything even remotely positive? For the boys.

"It's a self-explanatory phrase," Lewan explained. "It's for the boys."

The Titans' 2018 mantra was a popular utterance in the locker room by September, and it remained that way through locker clean-out day.

"You're either for the boys or you're not," linebacker Will Compton said. "Get on the train or get off."

Best Taylor Lewan quote: ∞

Yeah, this one’s impossible. Too many rich one-liners from the left tackle this season to pick just one. So here are a bunch of them, context-free. Enjoy.

  • ”I did what any Christian would do. I gave it the bird.”
  • “Was it disrespectful? Yes. Was it meant to be disrespectful? Yes.”
  • ”It’s for the boys. It’s all the boys. It’s a plural for a reason. You’re a boy. You’re a boy. It’s for the boys.”
  • ”Can they be dramatic? Yeah. So can I. I live in the drama.”
  • "We’ll probably become pen pals. I’ll send him an email on my AOL account."
  • “I don’t know if I was targeted or not, but I’ll tell you what, man, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like that hurts my feelings. If you’re a good football player, people are going to be out to get you … I’ll get mine. In time.”
  • ”Wolves don’t care about the opinions of sheep.”
  • "It’s ridiculous that people don’t give the Titans enough credit ... There’s 32 teams. There’s not 31. So, I mean, you’ve got to start respecting Nashville a little bit.”

Best jump-out-of-your-seat moment: Mariota’s block

Never question Mariota’s toughness. It’s a losing argument.

The Titans quarterback has proved it consistently since arriving in Nashville, but perhaps never as flashy as in Week 15. Mariota demolished Giants linebacker Alec Ogletree with a monstrous block (in which he led with his throwing shoulder), leaving Titans fans to simultaneously erupt in excitement with "OH MY GOD!" and howl in worry with "WHAT IS HE DOING?"

“Just trying to help a teammate out,” Mariota said.


Best rags to riches story: Darius Jennings

Darius Jennings’ 2018 story began on the bubble, where he scratched and clawed and did just enough in training camp to earn himself a spot on the Titans’ 53-man roster.

He ended the season having run away with a franchise record.

The Titans wide receiver had 22 kickoff returns for 698 yards and a touchdown, leading the league with a franchise record 31.7-yard average. The Titans’ 32.0-yard kickoff return average set an NFL record.

Position coach most likely to have wronged a malevolent spirit: Arthur Smith

By season’s end, the Titans’ tight end group included a guy who barely made the 53-man roster out of training camp, a guy the team picked off another team’s practice squad midseason and Luke Stocker. Hardly ideal.

That’s not intended to slight what Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt and Stocker did in 2018 – on the contrary, the trio had solid campaigns and a few memorable, big-time moments.

But if Delanie Walker hadn’t suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 1, there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t post his fifth straight season with at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards. If Jonnu Smith hadn’t gone down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 14, there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t continue trending upward.

Frankly, the Titans were cursed at tight end this season. Maybe position coach Arthur Smith cut off a fortune teller in traffic or something.

Best second half, runner-up: Malcolm Butler

Butler's first eight games of the season: seven touchdown passes allowed (which was an NFL high at the time). But the cornerback's final eight weeks? Not a single touchdown reception let up. Henry ran away with the "best second half" superlative, but runner-up firmly belongs to Butler.

Coolest practice/game venue: Syon House in England

Titans players practice at Syon House on Oct. 19 in preparation for a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Wembley Stadium.


In Texas, AT&T Stadium is what Willy Wonka would have conjured up had football been his thing. In Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium is a spectacle in its own right. In London, Wembley Stadium is a stage fit for international events.

But what about that patchy, uneven, mushroom-filled field in Brentford, England, definitely more appropriate for a high school football squad than an NFL team but nonetheless the sight of the Titans' practice on Oct. 19? 

Yeah, that place was something else. In the lead-up to their first international game, the Titans got the full UK experience by practicing in front of a castle at Syon House. Doesn't get any cooler.


Impending free agent who did the most to earn another contract in Nashville: Kenny Vaccaro

Kenny Vaccaro was brought to Nashville on a one-year deal during the preseason to replace safety Johnathan Cyprien, who tore his ACL in training camp. And he didn’t miss a beat.

Vaccaro's impact on the run defense didn't always show up statistically, but it was crucial. And the difference there between him and backup Kendrick Lewis was massive, which was evident when Vaccaro missed time with an elbow injury.

Best outfit: Taylor Lewan

Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan steps out of the locker room with his white "Boss Hogg" suit for a press conference after signing a new contract July 27.


After signing the richest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history (five years, $80 million), Lewan showed up to his press conference wearing a white suit and cowboy hat, paying tribute to Boss Hogg from "The Dukes of Hazzard." It was epic, hilarious and merely par for the course in the ongoing adventures of Taylor Lewan.

Boldest outfit: Wesley Woodyard

Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard breaks out his "Jags killer" look after beating the Jaguars Sept. 23 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

It’s one thing to flaunt a victory after beating a rival. It’s another thing entirely to do that while knowing you’re going to have to play them again later in the season.

That's what made Woodyard's decision so bold. After the Titans ousted the Jaguars in Week 3, the inside linebacker broke out the "Jags killer" look: a vibrantly colored, attention-seizing shirt (that featured a couple of blue Jaguars) and a pair of aviator glasses.

After the Titans beat Jacksonville again in Week 14, Woodyard didn't let up, this time going for a leopard-spotted blazer. Bold.

Worst game ever: Week 1 in Miami

Err, I mean longest game ever. Let's go with longest.

The Titans' 7-hour, 8-minute debacle of a game in Week 1 had the lousy Miami weather to blame for earning a slice of undesirable history. Before a noon kickoff morphed into "Sunday Night Football," three hours, 59 minutes worth of lightning delays were responsible for the longest game since at least the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. So more a wait-a-thon than marathon.

It was at least one person's first game as an NFL beat reporter. That reporter's approach gradually deteriorated from playful ("Ha ha, this is never going to end!") to disinterested ("OK, can this please just end?") to pure existential dread ("My gosh, this is never going to end."). In hindsight, it was a fitting beginning to a truly wild 2018 season for the Titans.

Here's hoping 2019 begins in literally any other way.

Reach Erik Bacharach at ebacharach@tennessean.com and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.