NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins is having lots of fun watching Kyle Orton throw the ball around.
"It's funny how this has worked out as far as the passing attack," Dawkins said, "when it was considered at the beginning to be a weak part of our team."
Not now. Not the way Orton is throwing the ball. He completed 35 of 40 passes for 341 yards despite being sacked six times, and found Correll Buckhalter for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:33 left to rally the Broncos to a 26-20 win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans.
Denver receiver Brandon Lloyd called knowledge power and said Orton is benefiting from being in his second season with coach Josh McDaniels' offense.
"He is just turning out to be a really good quarterback," Lloyd said.
Thanks to Orton's performance, the Broncos (2-2) started a two-game road swing with a win. He also got plenty of help from a defense that limited the Titans (2-2) to 46 yards on offense and just three first downs in the second half. Chris Johnson ran for 53 yards on 19 carries with his longest run of eight yards giving the Titans their lone first down in the fourth quarter.
McDaniels said Denver blitzed two outside linebackers 55 or 60 times to contain Johnson.
"Our defense did a great job of keeping us in the game long enough for the offense to make enough plays in order to take the lead," McDaniels said.
The Titans blew too many opportunities early, especially in the first quarter, when they outgained Denver 115-15. Rob Bironas, who later kicked field goals of 55 and 46 yards, missed from 35 wide right on Tennessee's second drive of the game, and Johnson thought his knee was down on the next drive only to have officials rule he fumbled at the Denver 29.
"We had chances," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We didn't get it done."
Tennessee still led 20-16 after rookie Marc Mariani returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter and Bironas kicked his second field goal. The defense intercepted Orton's pass to end Denver's first drive of the fourth quarter and forced the ball over on downs on the next series, keeping the Titans in the game.
But they managed only five plays before punting it back, giving Denver the ball at midfield. Orton bounced up after being sacked for the sixth time by throwing deep to Jabar Gaffney, and officials called safety Chris Hope for pass interference, putting the ball at the Titans 1.
After being forced to kick three field goals, Orton found Buckhalter this time for the TD.
"I don't think we played our best football the whole time, but anytime you can give yourself a chance to win in the fourth quarter on the road against a good football team, we'll take it," Orton said. "When it got down to it, we made the plays."
Special teams did their part too. Kicking into the wind, the Titans got caught and Mariani couldn't field the ball cleanly. Cassius Vaughn recovered, and Matt Prater promptly kicked his fourth field goal of the game for the final margin.
"We got a lucky play, and we don't want it to have to come down to that being the game," Lloyd said. "But we will take it."
Vince Young threw for 173 yards and a touchdown, and said the Titans offense could have done more to help the defense. Asked if the play-calling was too conservative in the second half, he referred questions to Fisher and the offensive coordinator.
"My job is to go out there and try to do whatever it takes when the play is called," he said, "to execute it, get first downs and move the ball."
The Broncos came in averaging 350 yards passing, and Tennessee held them to 327 total, including 19 yards rushing. It wasn't enough despite spending more than 35 minutes on the field.
"We've actually got to start scoring touchdowns on defense and making big plays and interceptions and fumbles," Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "We have to put that on ourselves. We have the added pressure ourselves to start making plays."