The Tennessee Titans are not only having trouble winning games, they are now having trouble even being competitive.
The Titans fell 34-14 in Jacksonville Sunday to the AFC South-leading Jaguars in a game that wasn’t even as close as that final score. Tennessee found itself down 27-0 in the second half before scoring a couple of consolation touchdowns. Those were the first two road TD passes of the season – the Titans used trick plays to find the end zone with both scores.
Tennessee now falls to 3-7 and continued to flounder on the road, moving to 0-6 in road games and 0-7 away from Nissan Stadium (with a loss in October to Baltimore in London) and any shred of hope for a late-season run to get back into contention all but evaporated on Sunday.
In a three-game road swing, the Titans were outscored by a combined 74-36 and did not score more than 16 points in any of those three losses.
Sunday’s was less than a year from last year’s season finale that the Jaguars won in the final three minutes, returning a Josh Dobbs fumble for a go-ahead touchdown.
But on Sunday, the Titans weren’t even close to competing with the 7-3 Jaguars, being overmatched on the field and statistically, as well as on the scoreboard.
Much of the story was told in the stats, as Trevor Lawrence passed for two scores to Calvin Ridley and ran for two more, completing 24-of-32 passes for 262 yards. Ridley burned the Titans for 103 yards on seven catches, and the Jaguars also rushed for 128 yards on 36 attempts.
The Titans also gifted the Jaguars 14 points with a turnover in each half, something they could ill afford to do given their struggles on offense. Tennessee ran just 38 offensive plays to 69 for Jacksonville. The Titans had the football for just 23:34, compared to 36:26 for the Jags.
“It sucks right now,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters in Jacksonville. “Nobody wants to be where we’re at. Not me, not anybody. But we are. We put ourselves in this position, so we’ll get ourselves out.”
Is Vrabel concerned about his own job security with the Titans having now won just three of their last 17 games dating back to last season?
“I am frustrated for the players. I am disappointed for the players. I want them to have success. I know how hard they work, how much they put into it,” Vrabel said. “So that’s what my focus is, on coaching this team and trying to get these guys to understand there’s a fine line in this league of winning and losing and finding a way to get a win. That’s what I’m focused on. I’ll let (the writers) fire me each week or not to fire me. I appreciate your question. I do. I will always understand it. We have to improve. Those are things that we have to do.”
The kind of day it was going to be for the Titans was made clear on the very first drive, where Tennessee used two runs and a penalty on Jacksonville to set up favorable third-and-2. That was ruined, however, when rookie QB Will Levis never had a chance on a blitz and was sacked for an eight-yard loss.
Tennessee got the ball back and actually mounted a drive, thanks to a 38-yard end around run from receiver Chris Moore. However, on the very next play, Levis could not handle a high snap from Aaron Brewer. The Jaguars recovered and Lawrence cashed it in with a 57-yard drive and a TD throw to Calvin Ridley for the final 3 yards.
Jacksonville tacked on two Brandon McManus field goals in the second quarter and took a 13-0 lead to halftime, with the Titans offense struggling to even get a first down. Tennessee had just 82 yards of offense in the first half, as the run game could not get going, nor could the offensive line protect well enough to allow Levis anything more than short throws.
“We definitely have hoped for some more improvement in the last few weeks. We thought we did some great things in practice to put us in a good spot to execute today, but we just didn’t do it. And that’s what it comes down to, just going out there and executing the game plan. We made too many mistakes that put us in bad position,” Levis said.
The Titans continued to struggle in the third quarter, and the Jaguars continued to pile up points, scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter to push the lead to 27-0 before Tennessee finally got on the scoreboard.
It was a trick play from the wildcat formation with Levis lined up wide and coming around to throw a 43-yard TD pass to DeAndre Hopkins that finally got the Titans to the end zone. It was Tennessee’s first road touchdown pass of the season and only the third TD of the year on the road.
But typical of the day, when the Titans defense got a three-and-out from the Jaguars on the next possession, rookie return Eric Garror fumbled the punt, and Jacksonville cashed it in with a Lawrence TD run for its final score.
Tennessee’s other touchdown came in mop-up time as Moore caught a 50-yard pass from Levis that set up a 1-yard TD pass on the goal line to defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, who had checked in as eligible as a fullback.
Levis’ final numbers were good (13-of-17 passing for 158 yards and two touchdowns), but the bulk of his positive impact came after the outcome had already been determined and the Jaguars were no longer harassing him on every single dropback.
After losing three-straight road games, the Titans finally return home Sunday, hoping to pick up the pieces against a team that is struggling as much or more than they are in the 1-9 Carolina Panthers.
Right tackle Chris Hubbard was lost in the first half due to an elbow injury and replaced by rookie sixth-round pick Jaelyn Duncan. Safety Terrell Edmunds was out of the game due to shoulder issues.