The Tennessee Titans’ season ended today, by way of a 19-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Winners and losers are as followed.
Winner: Nissan Stadium crowd
There were calls, pleads, and requests throughout the week for Titans fans to show up today, and be loud throughout the game.
Not only did those fans answer the call, they went above and beyond to complete their given mission.
They made life problematic for Joe Burrow and company pre-snap, their energy bounced back to the players on the field after big time plays, and they gave this stadium an amount of energy it hasn’t had since the days of Steve McNair and Eddie George.
To half empty stands even when the team was winning during the start of the Jon Robinson era, to packed houses en route to fantastic finishes on the field, this team has come a long way in terms of fan engagement.
The next step is becoming a more consistent team on the field, which in part will lead to more sold out games and more rocking atmospheres. Until then though, good on Titans fans for answering the bell and doing their part.
Loser: Missed opportunities
In the playoffs, missed opportunities can either haunt you, or sting long enough for you to make up for them.
The Titans had plenty chances to forget about the missed opportunities left on the field, and take control of a game that was begging them to do so. After Ryan Tannehill missed a deep shot to A.J. Brown early in the game, he connected with Brown on a big play later on in the game. After Tannehill seemingly gave the ball away to the Bengals’ defense, the Titans’ defense stepped up and gave the offense another chance to correct their mistakes.
The list goes on and on.
But in the end, even after multiple bailouts, the Titans couldn’t put it together and their season ended as a result.
This game is going to haunt the Titans for a while, maybe even more than last season’s opening round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Not because it was a heartbreaking playoff loss, but because of how many plays they left on the field, specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
Winner: A.J. Brown
Even in a loss, A.J. Brown’s name can’t be lost in the shuffle of the pain and frustration.
Brown killed the Bengals’ secondary all game long, finishing with five catches for 142 yards, and a jaw dropping touchdown in which he corralled a beautiful Tannehill deep throw with one arm. He showed up, and showed up in a big way, something the Titans needed if they ever wanted to be in a position to win the game.
This loss will sit with Brown, considering that he left it all on the field despite the lack of consistent targets throughout the game.
On to next year for him and the rest of the team, as they try to digest another gut wrenching playoff defeat.
Loser: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill has survived a number of shouts, calls, boos, and insults due to his lack of success in the playoffs as the Titans’ franchise quarterback.
But today, Tannehill played one of his worst games as a Titan, and it came during the team’s most important game to date. How bad did Tannehill play you ask? Well look at the box score, and you’ll find three interceptions plastered along with the rest of Tannehill’s stats, all three of which proved to be too much for the Titans to overcome.
One on the first play of the game, in which he was late throwing to Julio Jones across the middle of the field. Another one where a pass of his got batted in the air, and plucked by Bengals defensive back Mike Hilton. The last one, and probably the most disappointing one, coming on what would be the Titans’ last play of the game.
Tannehill struggled with turnovers throughout the year, but the hope was that those would be eliminated with the return of his key offensive weapons. But that obviously wasn’t the case, and now the Titans are left sulking after
Winner: The Titans’ pass rush
If the Titans were to win this game, their pass rush would be one of the big reasons why.
They’ve been relentless all year, even single-handedly keeping this team in games. And with a juicy matchup against the Bengals’ helpless offensive line, it looked like this pass rush was primed to continue their dominant bounce back season.
The Titans sacked Joe Burrow nine times today, plenty of which that came on key third downs, and in early down situations that kept Zac Taylor’s offense was getting into a groove. If they weren’t throwing Burrow to the ground, they were constantly pressuring Burrow and forcing him into the few bad decisions he made throwing the football.
But despite their dominant, historic performance, their efforts were wasted due to a consistently inept offense that couldn’t find their footing.
The Titans went into last off-season with one goal in mind, bolster a bad pass rush in hopes of it becoming a respectable part of their football team. They did that plus more, and now have a sure fire pass rush that should remain a strength heading into next season.
When the Titans have lost this season, it’s been because they’ve failed to protect the football.
Whether it was their loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, or their surprising home loss against the Houston Texans, turnovers have greatly contributed to this team’s downfall whenever it has occurred.
Today was no different, as three Ryan Tannehill turnovers forced the Titans’ defense to come up with a multitude of difficult stops in key situations. All of which started the continuous chain reaction of turnovers that ultimately sent this team to a point of no return.
Turnovers were a thorn in this team’s side all year long, an uncharacteristic issue that hasn’t popped up during the tenure of head coach Mike Vrabel.
An added emphasis on protecting the ball will certainly be implemented during the Titans’ off-season program. Whether it helps aid the problem remains to be seen. But we do know this, if the problem isn’t fixed and continues to exist once next season begins, the tide of fortune could certainly opt to remain off the Titans’ side.
That’s for sure.
Winner: Taylor Lewan
Trey Hendrickson came into today’s game with some impressive statistical figures as a pass rusher. 16 sacks, near the top of the league in total pressures, the Bengals’ big money pass rusher certainly didn’t disappoint in his first year in Cincinnati.
But today, while lining up against Taylor Lewan, Hendrickson was stone walled.
The Bengals’ star pass rusher finished with one total tackle on the day, along with a big zero in the sack column. He couldn’t get going today, which speaks volumes about the job Lewan did in neutralizing Hendrickson’s impact on the game.
It was an up and down season for Lewan, but he finished it off with an exceptional personal performance against an outstanding football player.
Good job by him.
Winner: The Titans’ run defense
Aside from the Bengals’ passing attack, the Titans also needed to slow down Joe Mixon and his ground and pound rushing style.
The Titans did just that, limiting Mixon to 54 yards on 14 carries. Mixon’s lack of success on the ground was a reason why the Bengals had to throw the ball as much as they did, while also opening the door for the Titans’ pass to do an overwhelming amount of damage on Burrow and the Bengals’ offensive lined. Mixon did find some success in the second half, but he still failed to gain significant ground on the stat sheet.
If this team can find a positive after this loss, it’s that their run defense remained stout all year long, and even into the playoffs. Certainly an impressive attribute that this defense should hope to carry into next season.