Sports, Thrill of Victory

Titans beat the Bears thanks to dropped passes

Marcus Mariota and the Titans are still in the AFC South title hunt after winning in Chicago. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans improved their record to 6-6 as they beat the Chicago Bears 27-21 at Soldier Field.

Here are four takeaways from the game.

Titans took an early lead through the first half

Tennessee was quick to redeem their first-half performance from last week. Due to a slow start versus the Indianapolis Colts, the team trailed 21-7 at half, and they eventually lost 28-21.

This storyline flipped versus Chicago, as Tennessee established a 21-7 lead through the first two quarters and bested the Bears in total yards (225 versus 133), yards per play (7.8 versus 4.6) and time of possession (16:16 versus 13:44).

The Titans’ offensive efficiency stemmed, in large part, from the stellar play of quarterback Marcus Mariota, who through the first two quarters completed 10-of-14 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Mariota’s first touchdown pass came in the red zone, a 4-yarder to tight Delanie Walker. And two possessions later, he threaded a 29-yard bomb to receiver Rishard Matthews.

With that play, Mariota extended his streak of games with multiple touchdown passes to eight straight, which is the longest streak of its kind since Tom Brady’s nine-game streak in 2015.

Delanie Walker continues to be a playmaker on offense for the Titans. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Delanie Walker continues to be a playmaker on offense for the Titans. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Dropped passes plagued the Bears on their final drive, and secured Titans’ win

While the Bears were successful throwing against the Titans’ secondary, they shoot themselves in the foot several times throughout the game by dropping passing.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago receivers dropped 10 balls on Sunday, which is the most by any team in a single game through the website’s 10-year existence. Two of the ten drops occurred on the Bears’ final drive. 

Down 27-21 with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Chicago began their last possession at the their own 35-yard line. A series of plays pushed the Bears to the TEN 7-yard line, where they had four chances to score a touchdown.

On first down, receiver Josh Bellamy dropped a wide-open pass from quarterback Matt Barkley. On second down, linebacker Wesley Woodyard deflected an intended pass to Daniel Brown. On third down, Barkley threw out-of-bounds. And on fourth down, receiver Deonte Thompson failed to secure a sliding catch.

In other words, the Bears dropped two passes in the final minute of play that would have tied the score and given the team a chance to take the lead with an extra point attempt. Instead the Titans regained possession and ran out the game clock to win.

Said Bears’ wideout Marquess Wilson, “As a receiving corps, we’re all upset. Because it was in our hands. And we didn’t answer the call. That’s on us.”

Poor performance by Perrish Cox led to his release

Fourth-string quarterback Matt Barkley, who was filling in for veteran Jay Cutler and who was starting his first NFL game, played better than his stats suggest.

The former USC Trojan completed 28-of-54 passes for 316 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. But these numbers would look vastly different if Barkley’s receivers had not dropped 10 passes. 

Let’s assume no passes were dropped. Barkley would have completed 70 percent of his passes instead of 52 percent, he would have likely broken 400 yards, and he would have thrown four touchdowns instead of three.

The Titans released Perrish Cox after yet another disappointing game against the Bears. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER HANEWINCKEL / USA TODAY SPORTS

The Titans released Perrish Cox after yet another disappointing game against the Bears. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER HANEWINCKEL / USA TODAY SPORTS

The biggest takeaway from this hypothetical is that the Titans’ secondary struggled, particularly cornerback Perrish Cox, who was already under scrutiny after his poor performance last week versus Colts’ receiver T.Y. Hilton.

On the play where Bellamy dropped the potential game-winning catch, Cox was on coverage and fell down, allowing Bellamy to become entirely open.

With Cox’s release the Titans have promoted Kalan Reed, their seventh-round pick from the 2016 Draft, from the practice squad to the active roster. He, Valentino Blake and LeShaun Sims should rotate at cornerback opposite of veteran Jason McCourty.

Titans return to 0.500 and are in contention to win the AFC South

With their win over the Bears on Sunday, the Titans improved their record to 6-6 and reached the 0.500-mark for the fifth time this season. 

However, with just four games left before the post-season, head coach Mike Mularkey recognizes that, “we need to get over 0.500,” something the Titans have yet to do in 2016.

Tennessee has a bye next week, but thereafter they play the Denver Broncos at home, the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars on the road, and the Houston Texans in a season finale at home.

Depending on how the Titans perform in their next three matchups, they could easily be playing for the AFC South title on January 1 when the host Houston, and for a chance to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Currently the Titans are second in the division. The Texans (6-5) are first with the Colts (5-6) in third and the Jaguars in fourth (2-9).