When the Tennessee Titans travelled to Ever Bank Field on Saturday for a Week 16 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, they had an opportunity to accomplish something the organization had not done since 2008 — extend playoff hopes late into the season.
Unfortunately these hopes have ended.
Not only did the Titans lose to the Jaguars 17-38, but also the Houston Texans beat the Cincinnati Bengals 12-10, after Bengals’ kicker Randy Bullock missed a 43-yard field goal at the end of regulation.
As a result, Houston has clinched the AFC South, and it is statistically impossible for the Titans to enter the postseason through the Wild Card. Tennessee’s impending Week 17 matchup with the Texans has no impact on the postseason standings.
What brought about the Titans’ loss?
After the game several players for Tennessee commented on the team’s slow start.
Through the first quarter, the Jaguars established a 10-0 lead thanks to a 21-yard touchdown catch from Marqise Lee on Jacksonville’s opening drive and a 23-yard field goal from Jason Myers.
In the same quarter of play, the Titans produced a measly 40-yards of total offense, gained one first down, and punted the ball away on both of their offensive drives.
“The team came out flat,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan. “It’s a team sport, so this loss falls on the players, falls on the coaches, falls on everybody.”
“Anytime you come into a game and let a team get up 10 points on you, that’s not a good start,” said right tackle Jack Conklin. “It has to come from somewhere. So maybe we were overlooking the game a little bit, looking at next week.”
The Titans responded at the start of the second quarter with a 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, but Jacksonville scored two more times before halftime to extend their lead to 19-7.
Other players for Tennessee commented on their lackluster protection of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“We didn’t protect [Marcus],” said running back DeMarco Murray. “Offensive line, running backs, we didn’t protect him all day.”
While Murray’s statement was slightly hyperbolic, it is true that the Titans’ offensive line did not perform to their usual standards. Mariota was sacked twice by the Jaguars’ front seven. The second resulted in injury.
With 0:53 remaining in the third quarter, Jaguars’ defensive tackle Sheldon Day broke through the Titans’ offensive line and took down Mariota by his feet. The second-year quarterback stayed on the ground after the play and waited for medical personnel to cart him to the locker room.
He has a broken fibula and is unavailable until 2017.
“It breaks my heart,” said Lewan. “We’ve done such a good job protecting [Marcus] all year, and then a couple mishaps in this game and that’s what happens. It’s such a fragile sport.”
Outlook for Tennessee was bleak after Mariota’s injury. The Titans trailed the Jaguars 10-25, only the fourth quarter remained, and the onus of a comeback fell on backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who had completed a single pass earlier in the season (Week 5).
Although Cassel brought the Titans within 8-points — completing a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Delanie Walker with 8:42 remaining — the Jaguars responded with consecutive touchdowns to seal the win and final score of 17-38.
Marqis Lee threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Blake Bortles with 5:25 remaining. Then on the Titans’ subsequent possession, Jalen Ramsey returned an interception from Cassel to the end zone.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey says Ramey’s interception was the dagger. “Honestly, I still had faith until that last pick-six.” The rookie cornerback not only made the biggest play of the day but also allowed just four catches for 20 yards on ten targets, per Pro Football Focus.
Revisiting our original question — what brought about the Titans’ loss? — the players for Tennessee noted their slow start to the game, poor protection of Mariota, and Ramsey’s interception in the fourth quarter.
It would be remiss not to mention the performance of quarterback Blake Bortles, who completed 26-of-38 passes for 325 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also caught the fourth quarter touchdown pass from Lee.
Next week the Titans host the Texans at Nissan Stadium. Although the matchup has no impact on the postseason standings, the Titans have an opportunity to finish the season with nine wins, which would be the most for the organization since their 2011 season.