After putting together game winning drives in four of their first five games, it looked like the Titans were about to make it five of six. They had the ball 1st and 10 at the Steelers 25 down 3 with exactly one minute left on the clock. This was light work compared to what they faced a week ago.
But this time they came up short. An intentional grounding penalty pushed them back to 2nd and 20, disrupting their rhythm and eventually leading to a 46-yard field goal attempt to tie the game… which Stephen Gostkowski pushed right.
The Titans deserve credit for the furious comeback, but this time a late drive couldn’t save them, dropping them to 5-1 on the season. Let’s get into winners and losers from Steelers 27, Titans 24.
Winner: Jayon Brown
The Titans defense struggled early, but forced some big turnovers later on to help Tennessee climb back into the game. Jayon Brown was a central in two of the three turnovers, catching a Jeffery Simmons tip for an interception and then tipping one into the arms of Amani Hooker later on.
Brown was everywhere in pass defense, finishing the game with 4 pass breakups, including a beautiful play to knock down a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster for a rare third down stop. He was spectacular today.
Loser: Stephen Gostkowski
Putting this loss entirely on the kicker is unfair. The Titans dug themselves a giant hole without the help of Gostkowski early on. However, you expect your kicker to make 45-yard kicks and after all that work to claw themselves back into the game, there was just something dissatisfying about seeing it end on a missed field goal.
It’s been an extremely strange season for Gostkowski.
Maybe the Titans should try going back to their 2019 strategy of not attempting field goals at all.
Winner: A.J. Brown
The Titans star wide receiver had a massive game, catching 6 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. His 73-yard catch and run really jump started the second half comeback.
Brown is a stud and will be one of the best receivers in the NFL for a long time.
Loser: Third Down Defense
Going back to the Titans win over the Bills, Tennessee’s defense has allowed their opponents to convert 33 of their 49 third downs (67.3%).
The highest season long third down conversion rate that a team has allowed since 1991 (the furthest Pro Football Reference’s database goes back on that stat) is 49.6% by the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Titans were giving up a league-high 57.8% conversion rate heading into this game and the Steelers 13-of-18 performance will continue to send that number in the wrong direction for Tennessee.
This is a problem that must get figured out in a hurry for the Titans defense.
Winner: Ty Sambrailo
Sambrailo was a big concern heading into this game as he tried to fill the big shoes of Taylor Lewan at left tackle, but he was very good in this game. Just how good? Bud Dupree, the Steelers outstanding edge rusher who had 11.5 sacks last year and already 5 on the season coming into this game, was held without registering a single statistic. Not a sack, not a QB hit, not a tackle.
In fairness, the Titans did help Sambrailo at times with chips and doubles, but he held up very well and that should give you some confidence in him moving forward.
Loser: Dennis Kelly
Kelly, on the other hand, struggled with All-Pro T.J. Watt throughout the game. Watt finished with a sack, a QB hit, and three tackles for loss, regularly causing disruption in the Tennessee backfield. It was also Watt’s inside rush beating Kelly that led to Stephon Tuitt coming free on the critical intentional grounding play on the final drive.
It was a bad game for Kelly, albeit against stellar competition.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
Simmons can pretty much be written in Sharpie next to a “Winners” tag in this piece. He shows up every single game at this point and this was no exception. He was frequently seen knocking down Ben Roethlisberger and created Jayon Brown’s interception with a great tip at the line of scrimmage.
That’s now the second pick that he’s created with a tip this year after gifting one to Harold Landry back in Week 2. Simmons is a difference maker and pretty easily the best player on the Titans defense at this point.
Loser: Titans special teams
We already hit on Gostkowski above, but he wasn’t the only problem with the Titans special teams. Tennessee also gave up a huge punt return, saw Kalif Raymond drop a kickoff that backed them up deep in their own territory, and had a rare mistake from Brett Kern when he panicked after a low snap and heaved the ball into coverage. This was a game that Craig Aukerman will want to forget.
Loser: Tye Smith/Johnathan Joseph
Smith got the start opposite Malcolm Butler with Kristian Fulton manning the slot, but rotated with Joseph throughout the game. Neither were effective. Smith simply missed the ball on a preventable touchdown to Diontae Johnson early in the game and then Joseph was consistently seen giving up too much cushion and struggling to tackle after the catch.
Those two were frequently picked on when Roethlisberger needed a play on third downs. This much is clear now: the Titans desperately need Adoree’ Jackson to get — and stay — healthy if they want this defense to have any success in 2020. The cornerback play simply isn’t good enough right now.