No one player is going to fill the void left by Kenny Britt's knee injury.
However, second-year receiver Damian Williams is beginning to take advantage of the opportunity that has been created by Britt's misfortune.
Williams ascended into the Titans' starting lineup when Britt went down, and he started slowly, even finding his way at least to the outskirts of offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's doghouse. Palmer told Williams in a heart-to-heart chat after a loss in Pittsburgh back in October that he expected more from the receiver in terms of production.
"His biggest point to me was that he sees more in me than I do," Williams said. "Whether that's true or not, I don't know. That just lets me know that he expects a whole lot of me, and he probably expects as much from me as I expect from myself. After we had our conversation after the Pittsburgh game, we started to get on the same page, and I know what he expects from me. I just go out and give 100 percent every day, and hopefully he keeps calling the ball my way."
Williams apparently got the message, because of late, he has played at a different level. He made a highlight-reel reception near the back line of the end zone last week against Cincinnati, and then in Sunday's rout of Carolina, he caught five passes for 107 yards and another touchdown. Williams now leads the Titans with four touchdown catches this season.
"I think you're just seeing a guy get better and better. It's confidence. It's the opportunities he's getting. (He made that catch) in the back of the end zone last week," coach Mike Munchak said. "He's caught quite a few on the sidelines now with some great catches for us.
"When you see guys doing that, the quarterback gets more confident to throw the tough throw to them because he's going to find a way to make that play. It's great to see. He had some drops earlier this year on some tough catches, but he did a good job of putting that behind him and moving forward. We need him to play big for us, as we do other guys, if we're going to make a run at this thing the last seven weeks."
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck nearly had a bootleg run for a touchdown in Sunday's game. Hasselbeck decided to call his own number with the Titans in the four-minute offense and trying to put the game away. But Hasselbeck made it even farther than he apparently thought he would, rambling 21 yards to the 1-yard line, narrowly missing a touchdown, which Chris Johnson picked up on the next play.
Asked why he didn't dive for the end zone, Hasselbeck joked, "I wasn't even sure I wanted to score. I'm not sure if that was an option or not. I was trying to do some math. I was looking up at the scoreboard. I really hadn't thought it through. ... I was just thinking, 'OK, the first 10 yards, I should have it.' I really didn't think it through after that. I was trying to think and run at the same time, not something I'm good at. Good thing I wasn't chewing gum."
Johnson, who had a season-high 130 yards rushing Sunday, had his own answer for getting the cheap TD at the end of the game, just his second trip to the end zone this season.
"Matt told me I was on his fantasy team, so he slid down at the 1 and let me get in the end zone. So you'll have to thank Matt, fantasy owners," Johnson said.
Wide receiverkick returner Marc Mariani had his second career punt return for a touchdown to open the scoring for the Titans on Sunday. His 79-yard return helped set the stage for the rout of the Panthers.
"I think that was huge for us, especially first quarter out the gate to build momentum and take over so early was huge. A lot of credit to those guys (blocking for me); it was a huge play for us," Mariani said.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LB Colin McCarthy got his first NFL start Sunday in place of an injured Barrett Ruud and performed well enough that even when Ruud returns, McCarthy likely will still have some role on the defense in certain packages.
S Chris Hope was back from a broken forearm after missing four games. He played in limited fashion in sub-packages, but he did have an interception off a deflected pass.
LB Will Witherspoon had a strong game against the Panthers, one of his former teams. Witherspoon forced a fumble by TE Greg Olson that LB Akeem Ayers recovered.
DE Dave Ball will have to pass some concussion tests before he will be allowed to return to the practice field, something that might not happen this week.
LB Akeem Ayers had the best game of his young career, as the rookie had a fumble recovery and a sack in Sunday's win over the Panthers.
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Matt Hasselbeck was 15 of 27 for 219 yards and a touchdown. His interception was miscommunication with Donnie Avery. Damian Williams was the bright spot with 107 yards and a TD on five catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Chris Johnson had his best game of the year with 130 yards on 27 carries and a 1-yard touchdown. Still, the explosiveness of seasons past has not returned.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Tennessee confused Cam Newton and harassed him with five sacks. The Titans also got an interception against the Panthers' prized rookie, limiting him to 23-of-40 passing for 212 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Panthers had 113 yards rushing against the Titans, but Newton had nearly half of it (55) on scrambles. The Titans rendered DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart mostly ineffective.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus -- Marc Mariani's 79-yard punt return for Tennessee's first score set the tone. Rob Bironas has now made 13 consecutive field goals after hitting two more Sunday.
COACHING: A -- Mike Munchak told the Titans to think of the second half of the season as a new beginning with the goal being a run toward the playoffs. For one week at least, Tennessee bought it big-time with a strong effort against Carolina.