At the start of December, the Tennessee Titans were 7-4, and well on their way to a third straight AFC South title.
Sure, there were some turbulent and unwanted attachments with the team as well. Like the offense continuing to sputter, injuries ransacking the team on both sides of the ball, and the roster was beginning to show its fragility in terms of depth.
But still, feelings were still positive, the future looked more bright than not, and any deficiencies were probably insignificant enough to derail the Titans’ unexpectedly successful season.
Well, now we’re preparing to enter the dog days of December, a time that includes the joyous occasion known as Christmas, and the Titans — who were once full of happy feelings, reasons to smile, and a will to keep fighting — are on the verge of completing one of the more disappointing late season collapses in recent memory.
What made that statement come to be, was the result of the Titans’ latest loss, a 17-14 heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Chargers.
This game wasn’t going to be easy to win whatsoever, considering the state of the Titans, and how hungry the Chargers are for their first playoff appearance since the 2018-2019 season.
However, despite the difficult optics staring the Titans in the face, they still had a job to do. Which was to win and avoid a backbreaking loss that could seriously harm their season moving forward.
For a two quarters and some change, it appeared the Titans were on the way to doing the exact opposite.
After an early second quarter touchdown to tie the game at seven, the Titans went on scoring drought that lasted until the late stages of the fourth quarter. That drought included five punts, an interception, and a missed field goal that would’ve given the Titans a three point lead early in the fourth quarter.
The drought was also littered with controversy, as the Titans made some questionable play calls on key third and short situations. Which if converted, would’ve at least extended drives and given the Titans another fresh set of downs to work with.
“That’s what we chose to do,” Mike Vrabel said, in response to a question detailing the Titans’ decision to throw on key third and short situations instead of running the ball. “That’s the play that we called and went with.”
The same drought included a hobbled Ryan Tannehill, who briefly left the game in the first quarter after his ankle was rolled on after a sack on a third down. Tannehill struggled to move in the pocket after he returned, which combined with a bad offensive line and an awful situation at receiver, combined to spell death for the Titans’ offense throughout most of the game.
Normally under those difficult circumstances, the team that struggles to score would usually fall behind en route to an embarrassing loss. But the Titans had some luck on their side, with that luck coming in the way of their defense, which pitched a shutout for three quarters after giving up a touchdown on the Chargers’ opening possession.
With some help via turnover, with Kevin Byard and Joshua Kalu each picking off Justin Herbert once.
Once the fourth quarter began, both teams dove deep in their bag of offensive tricks, and scored touchdowns to tie the game at 14. The Titans’ defense had finally broken, giving up a early fourth quarter touchdown, but the Titans’ offense responded late in the quarter, scoring a touchdown to give themselves a shot at sending the game into overtime.
But on the Chargers’ last drive of the game, Justin Herbert completed an improbable throw down the field to put the Chargers into field goal range, where they later kicked the game’s last points, courtesy of a Cameron Dicker field goal.
The result gave the Titans their fourth straight loss and complicated their January endeavors by quite a bit.
Where the Titans stand
With the latest loss now in the books, the Titans are once again, at a crossroads.
Their healthy division lead is down gone, as the Jacksonville Jaguars have stormed back to trim the deficit to one single game.
Any optimism left for the season is quickly dwindling away, as the Titans’ remaining schedule includes two tough games (a Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys and a Week 18 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars), as well as a Saturday test against the Houston Texans on Christmas Eve, games the Titans will surely have to win if they want to keep a hold on the once secure AFC South.
Their health situation is trending in the wrong direction as well, with multiple key contributors already out due to injury, and injury fill ins going down with injury today against the Chargers.
All of these negative developments are setting up for a very sour regular season ending for the Titans, one this franchise hasn’t seen during the Mike Vrabel era.
If they want to reverse this trend — one that’s dangerously close to coming to fruition — then results need to be accomplished.
No more safe moral victories relating to fundamentals, toughness, camaraderie, and the brotherhood.
Wins, wins are needed and they’re needed very soon. Because this team is very close to dropping the ball during a stretch you can’t do so.
And if that conclusion comes to be, you can only image the chaos that would ensue.
“Nothing I can tell them that’s going to make them not be disappointed, upset,” Vrabel said after the game. “Nothing I can really say to them [the Titans] other than get some rest, spill our guts again, and find a way to win on Saturday [against the Texans].
Featured image via Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports