Titans wide receiver Justin Gage pulls in a 33-yard catch over 49ers cornerback Dre' Bly during the fourth quarter Sunday. GEORGE WALKER IV / THE TENNESSEAN
By Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean
SAN FRANCISCO - Running back Chris Johnson looked dead in the water, and for a while on Sunday, so did the Titans.
Trailing and faced with a fourth down from the San Francisco 2-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, quarterback Vince Young turned around and pitched the football to Johnson on the outside.
The problem: linebacker Parys Haralson was there, waiting for him.
"I just had to make a play,'' Johnson said with a smile. "Like Kobe Bryant or LeBron, I wanted to make a play.''
The lightning-quick Johnson did that. He sidestepped the former Vol Haralson and eased his way into the corner of the end zone to give the Titans a lead they wouldn't relinquish in a 34-27 win over the 49ers at Candlestick Park.
Along the way, the team that looked so miserable while starting 0-6 continued to show signs of life.
The Titans won their second game in a row. And while 2-6 is nothing to brag about, they at least feel things are heading in the right direction.
"I don't know what the difference is. I really can't explain it other than now we are finding ways to win,'' center Kevin Mawae said. "We are not doing anything different game-plan wise, we are just making plays when we have to.
"The frustrating part is the way we started out the way we did. But that's in the past and we can't change it. We can just play from this point on and we're doing that. Nobody is talking about the first six games any more. They're talking about the next game and where we go from here.''
If the Titans are going to keep winning, they'll need to follow the same formula they've used in back-to-back wins against the Jaguars and 49ers - opportunistic offense and revived, turnover-forcing defense.
Quarterback Vince Young played well for the second week in a row, showing confidence and poise. He passed with accuracy, going 12-of-19 for 172 yards. He ran 7 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
And it seemed like when the Titans needed a play, he was there to make it - if Johnson didn't make it first, that is. Johnson had his fourth 100-yard game of the season and third in a row.
"We always believe in each other,'' said Young, who is now 20-11 as a starter. "I am just trying to get the team to get better and better. I want to earn their confidence back and earn my coach's confidence. So I am just trying to play one game at a time. It's not all about Vince. It's about all of us. We are doing a great job period.''
Teammates said Young has provided a spark.
"He has a whole different aura about him now,'' tight end Bo Scaife said. "He came back hungrier than ever and wants to show he can be the quarterback they drafted him to be.''
The defense provided the offense with a big boost, creating four turnovers that were turned into 24 points.
Cornerback Rod Hood, safety Chris Hope and cornerback Cortland Finnegan had interceptions, and Finnegan returned his 39 yards for a touchdown that gave the Titans a 34-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
Although the defense allowed 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to pass for 286 yards, its big plays kept putting the offense in great positions to score.
The Titans also continued to be more aggressive on defense, sacking Smith four times. They have eight sacks in the past two games after posting seven sacks in the previous five combined.
They also have more interceptions in the past two games (five) than they had in the previous six games combined (four).
"Guys are making plays,'' defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said. "It's a funny game played with a funny-shaped ball and sometimes you get the bounces and sometimes you don't. Now we're starting to get some bounces go our way and we're starting to capitalize on it.''
While the Titans are looking more like the team that finished 13-3 last year, they're not allowing themselves to think about what could've been. They're just halfway through the season and feel like they still have plenty to play for, continuing with Sunday's game against the Bills at LP Field.
"This is more what we are about,'' linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "Once we slipped up it was like one of those movies where people have the freefall. No one wanted our season to go that way. But we have more football to play, and we're going to play it on out and see what happens.''