This was a Murphy’s Law game for the Titans. Despite outgaining the Bengals 441 yards to 367 and rushing for a whopping 218 yards on 7.5 yards per carry, Tennessee’s continued inability to get off the field on third down on defense and some uncharacteristic mistakes from the offense led to the Titans most lopsided regular season loss of the Tannehill era.
A horrible red zone turnover on the team’s first offensive drive set the tone for the day and things didn’t get much better from there. Here are the winners and losers from Bengals 31, Titans 20.
Loser: The entire front seven
The Bengals were starting an XFL level offensive line with just one starter from the week before in the lineup and the Titans pass rush still couldn’t get home. Jadeveon Clowney and Harold Landry both missed sack opportunities on rookie Joe Burrow and Vic Beasley was a total non-factor again. Even Jeffery Simmons was quiet in this game.
It was a miserable let down in a game that should have been an opportunity to tee off for the Titans struggling pass rush. Now it’s hard to see how or when this group will get going. Clowney and Beasley have already been paid $9.8 million for a combined zero sacks through seven games. At some point the pressures have to turn into production for these contracts to be anything but total busts for Jon Robinson.
Tennessee will see another bad offensive line in Week 9 against the Bears, but it’s hard to muster much hope for this unit after this performance.
Winner: Derrick Henry
Not much went right for the Titans, but the running game did it’s job. Henry finished with 112 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries despite having a long of just 21 yards. He was consistently picking up chunks on the ground throughout the day.
Loser: Ryan Tannehill
This was, quite comfortably, Tannehill’s worst game as a starter for the Titans. He finished 18-of-30 for 233 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. However, the interception was an absolute killer mistake in the red zone on 1st and goal at the 8. Rolling right, he chose to throw against his body over the middle — outlawed in section 1, article 1 of the NFL QB Manual — and got picked off by Jessie Bates, who cut in front of A.J. Brown in the end zone.
He absolutely cannot make that throw in that situation and Tannehill didn’t do enough to balance out that mistake over the remainder of the game.
Winner: D’Onta Foreman
Foreman was elevated from the practice squad after being added a few weeks ago and he shined in his first action as a Titan. The former Texas star picked up 37 yards on just 5 carries and looked outstanding while spelling Henry.
Loser: Special Teams
After a horrific showing against the Steelers a week ago, the Titans special teams cost them dearly again against the Bengals. Stephen Gostkowski missed another kick (though this one was from 50-plus for a change), Beau Brinkley botched another snap, Brett Kern failed to keep a short punt out of the end zone, and the coverage unit gave up another big return, this time on kickoff coverage.
With the Titans defense struggling, they cannot afford to have the special teams unit failing as well.
Winner: Corey Davis
With A.J. Brown shockingly quiet, Davis came up big with an 8-catch, 128-yard day, including a fantastic toe-tapping touchdown catch. Davis is having a nice season for the Titans in the final year of his rookie contract.
Loser: Third-Down Defense
For the fourth straight game, the Titans defense gave up a conversion on at least 50% of their third-down opportunities. Today, it was 10-of-15 (66.7%), marking the third time in the last four that they’ve given up at least 10 third-down conversions in a single game.
To give you an idea how wild that is… the Titans had only allowed that to happen 14 times since… THEY CHANGED THEIR NAME TO THE TITANS. It had happened just once in the previous four seasons (Baltimore in 2018).
The funny thing? I actually didn’t think the coverage was horrible today on third-downs. The Bengals receivers made several absolutely spectacular catches against tight coverage, particularly on third-downs. Tee Higgins, Auden Tate, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd all took their turns jabbing knives into the heart of the Tennessee defense with twisting acrobatic leaping grabs. That’s not to excuse a group that has been awful this season, but there were a few that were good-coverage-better-catch type plays mixed in with the Titans typical too-soft coverage.
Winner: Malcolm Butler
It’s hard to say anyone was a winner on the Titans defense today, but Butler was good for a second straight week. He was physical as usual and led the team with two passes broken up. This probably rings hollow coming off two straight losses, but a secondary featuring Adoree’ Jackson, Malcolm Butler, and Kristian Fulton should — at least in theory — be a huge improvement over the current group with Johnathan Joseph and Chris Jackson.
Loser: NFL Officiating
Listen when I say this… the officials are NOT the reason the Titans lost this game. The Bengals were the better team on Sunday and deserved to win.
However… that was a total shitshow of an officiating performance. Everything from holding to defensive pass interference to unnecessary roughness was wildly inconsistent throughout the game, and far too often with huge consequences. The defensive pass interference call against Johnathan Joseph on Tee Higgins was a bad call. Sure, he didn’t get his head around, but he wasn’t face guarding or making enough contact to warrant a flag. Joseph played the receiver and the hands. Not turning your head around should not be an automatic DPI call. That call set up the Bengals first touchdown of the game.
Then you have the horrific headshot that knocked Adam Humphries out on the field. Here is the NFL’s description of what constitutes a penalty on defenseless receivers, which Humphries undoubtably was on that play:
“Forcibly hitting the defenselessplayer’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the player’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenselessplayer by encircling or grasping him.”
The kill shot to Humphries head is a no-doubter. It absolutely should have been called and it’s a shame on the NFL that it wasn’t.
Finally, let’s talk about the ridiculous DPI call that wiped out Jayon Brown’s interception that could have given the Titans at least a glimmer of hope for a miraculous comeback. When you make a call like that — and it reverses a turnover or scoring play — you should 100% be required by the NFL to identify the player who you are penalizing. The CBS broadcast showed every potential infraction and none rose to the standard of “clear and obvious” that officials are being asked to apply this season. Not even close.
This was a shameful performance by Scott Novak and his crew.