With an opportunity to make significant movement in the AFC South, and to have the franchise’s first three-game winning streak since Week 4 of 2011, the Tennessee Titans came up short on Sunday.
They lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 34-26, in a game that was frustrating on all fronts.
The Titans’ early season health ended, as cornerback Perrish Cox (concussion) and left guard Quinton Spain (knee) were carted off the field. The Titans have now lost ten consecutive games to the Colts. And perhaps the hardest to swallow, Tennessee gave up a three-point lead (23-20) in the fourth quarter.
With 6:02 remaining Andrew Luck led a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to bring the game to 27-23. The scoring play was a 7-yard pass to tight end Jack Doyle with linebacker Avery Williamson on coverage.
Marcus Mariota consequentially found himself in a familiar situation — 1:55 remaining, down four points, with the chance to realize a game-winning drive. However, on the first play of the possession he fumbled and linebacker Robert Mathis returned the ball to the end zone, extending the Colts’ lead to 34-23.
A late field goal by Ryan Succop brought the final score to 34-26.
Before Sunday’s matchup the Titans ranked right in the middle of the league, 15th overall per Pro Football Focus, and optimism was building around an organization that had just won consecutive games for the first time since 2013.
This budding optimism has now taken a small step backwards, and the loss to Indianapolis raises questions about whether the Titans still qualify as a ‘good’ football team.
Can you be good after allowing Luck to complete 69 percent of his throws for 353 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions?
Titans’ head coach Mike Mularkey says yes, “Because the first 57 (minutes), we played a good football game. That’s why. And we’ve played well, if you’ve been watching. If you know anything about it, we’ve played well in spurts.”
There are certainly eye-tests and stat-lines that support this argument.
On the Titans’ final touchdown drive Mariota converted three, tough third down conversions: a 16 yard pass to receiver Tajae Share on third-and-15; a 20 yard pass to receiver Rishard Matthews on third-and-19; and a 7 yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker on third-and-goal.
Among individual players in league, running back DeMarco Murray ranks third for rush yards (633), linebacker Brian Orakpo ranks third for sacks (7 total), and tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are considered among the best at their position per Pro Football Focus.
Then, among teams in the league, the Titans rank third for rush yards (1,033), ninth for sacks allowed (12), fourth for third down conversion rate (46 percent), and 10th in total defense (338.0 yards per game).
Compare this information to that of last season. At the end of 2015 the Titans ranked 25th for rush yards, 32nd in sacks allowed, 29th for third down conversion rate, 21st in total defense, and the only players who ranked well at their respective position were defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and tight end Delanie Walker.
It clear that the Titans of 2016 are better than their 2015 selves, and in fact, a ‘good’ team.
And this truth should become more evident as the season goes on — as long as the Titans can escape the losing psyche of their past five seasons in order to close games.
“We need to find ways to make it change,” Casey said. “It frigging sucks. It seems like no matter what we dial up, what we put together, no matter how close we keep the game, we just can’t find a way to close it out.”
This Thursday the Titans have a chance for redemption, in regards to interdivisional play, as they face the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium. Kickoff is 7:25 PM CST.