NASHVILLE — While attending the Tennessee Titans’ chapel service Saturday night, one piece of advice stood out to wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine:
If you live off people’s praise, you’ll die off their criticism.
“That hit me last night and I really felt like we carried that over into today — without caring about what people are saying,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “They can say whatever they want. We just have to be ourselves.”
Westbrook-Ikhine and his colleagues were heavily criticized a week earlier when they failed to catch any of the five passes thrown their way. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it was only the fourth time in the past 20 seasons that an NFL team went through a game without a wide reception.
Westbrook-Ikhiine probably didn’t do himself any favors after the Kansas City game, either, when he said it was the first game in which wide receivers struggled this season. After all, the Titans entered the competition with the fewest combined receptions in the NFL, receiving yards and touchdown catches from wide receivers.
But the third-year player answered the critics of his position group in big style in Sunday’s 17-10 win over the Denver Broncos. He had the best stats day of his career with five receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Not only was it the Titans’ first 100-yard reception this season, but it also tripled that positional group’s touchdown performance. Robert Woods was the only other wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass and that happened in Week 4 against Indianapolis.
Treylon Burks and Woods chipped in for 34 yards for a total of five catches, giving the Titans wide receivers 10 catches and 153 yards more than they posted against the Chiefs.
“Our mindset was just be us, be professionals, treat each other like professionals and ignore all the outside noise,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “That’s all we can do. That is our task. This is our job description. That’s why we came.”
It was Westbrook-Ikhine who helped kick-start a sluggish offense late in the first half when the Titans were 10-0 down.
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A 16-yard pass by Ryan Tannehill to Westbrook-Ikhine produced a first down, and a 6-yard pass down the middle produced another – putting the Titans up at the Denver 35-yard line.
Six games later, Westbrook-Ikhine beat the Broncos’ cover-zero scheme to the back corner of the end zone, then slammed Denver cornerback Patrick Surtain around the catch and toe-tapped down for a touchdown.
“That was another similar practice,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “We had just such a representative. I was able to run a route to the rear pylon. Ryan played the exact same ball he did in training so I had full confidence in that play.”
Westbrook-Ikhine’s second touchdown was a splash play.
On the first and ten at the Titans 37 midway through the third quarter, Tannehill found Westbrook-Ikhine running wide open down the right touchline. A flea flicker — Tannehill had handed the ball to Derrick Henry and Henry had pitched it back to Tannehill — had completely fooled the Broncos defense.
Westbrook-Ikhine couldn’t have asked for more time to focus on the football that’s flying his way.
“Sometimes you think about the wide open ones a little too much,” Westbrook-Ikhine said. “Ryan delivered a great ball and the line had great protection on both (touchdowns).
“I feel like we walked through (this piece) or jogged through it in training at least three or four times, and we performed it exactly as we needed to. It was great.”
Westbrook-Ikhine, a receiver often praised for his blocking skills, entered Sunday’s contention with just seven catches for 138 yards in the first eight games of the season.
Who knows what’s next for Westbrook-Ikhine and the rest of the receiving corps after nearly doubling his mileage in one game?
“It’s huge,” Tannehill said. “They want to start stacking good performances. These guys did a good job throughout the game. They hung out with me and started making plays there when I brought them the ball as the game went on. So a lot of good things to stack from this group and build on.”