Backed by some questionable game management, the Tennessee Titans fell to the San Francisco 49ers on a last-second field goal.
When the Tennessee Titans left for their two-game, west coast road trip, they were 8-4 and AFC South division leaders. Now that they have returned to Nashville, they are 8-6, trail the Jacksonville Jaguars by two games in the division and are clinging to the fifth seed in the AFC by tiebreakers.
It all went wrong in a different time zone, and the Titans have no one to blame but themselves; except for, of course, their own coaching staff. Following a loss against a sub-.500 team starting Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the Titans needed to come away with a win in San Francisco to keep pace in the AFC playoff race. That didn’t happen.
The 49ers and their new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo began the game with the ball, driving down the field on 12 plays and settling for a short Robbie Gould field goal. The Titans started their offensive day with a patented three-and-out, and the Niners responded with another field goal drive.
The two teams traded lengthy drives through the late first quarter and early second quarter, though the Titans were only able to get three points and the 49ers got seven on a Garrett Celek touchdown reception from Jimmy G. As is tradition, the Titans then shot themselves in the foot, as Delanie Walker got stripped after a five-yard reception and set the 49ers up in good field position. Walker had previously dropped a sure touchdown on a beautiful Marcus Mariota pass, which resulted in a four-point swing on the previous drive.
After the Niners accumulated three points off the giveaway, the Titans, who were looking for any way to get more than three points, resorted to a no-huddle, uptempo approach. What that resulted in was a six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a Walker touchdown catch just before halftime. The reason this type of offense has been so effective in the past is because Mariota is the one calling the shots in those situations, and OC Terry Robiskie has proven incapable of calling an adequate game.
The Titans used their first two second half drives to chew up 13 minutes and 32 seconds of game time on 26 plays, getting 10 points and taking a 20-16 lead on a Rishard Matthews touchdown reception from a locked-in Mariota.
The game then took a weird turn. The 49ers retaliated with a field goal, the Titans went three-and-out because of a Quinton Spain holding call that destroyed the drive and Gould once again converted a try, his fifth of the game.
Mariota and the offense had three minutes to get into field goal range and finish the game. Mariota dinked and dunked his way down the field and got his team to a 3rd and 2 from the San Francisco 32 yard line. Instead of keeping the ball in the hands of a red hot Mariota, the Titans decided to hand it off to DeMarco Murray, who looked explosive throughout the game and, yet, averaged just 3.2 yards per carry. Running out of shotgun for some reason, Murray took the handoff and was stuffed for no gain. The Titans had to settle for a 50-yard field goal, which Ryan Succop calmly nailed and gave the Titans a one-point lead. But the Titans bypassed the opportunity to melt more clock.
It took Garoppolo three plays to get into field goal range. A three-yard Carlos Hyde run made the field goal attempt a bit shorter, and Gould drilled his sixth field goal of the game and put Titans fans out of their misery.
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Playing down to their competition all season hadn’t caught up to the Titans until this road trip. Losing to two sub-.500 teams when your playoff destiny was completely in your control is a fireable offense for many coaches. The Titans’ coaching staff doesn’t get these players ready to play for seemingly “easy” games, and they definitely don’t put their players in positions to succeed (Derrick Henry got seven carries; Corey Davis got five targets).
The Titans take on the scalding Los Angeles Rams, fresh off a 42-7 win in Seattle, at home at Nissan Stadium. With the Jaguars on tap for Week 17, the Titans need to at least split the final two games, but even that may not be enough. If the Titans lose to the Jaguars and beat the Rams, they may miss out due to other AFC teams owning the AFC tiebreaker. If the Titans lose to the Rams and beat the Jaguars, they will most likely be in, as long as results go their way.
Buckle up, because things can go very right or very wrong over these last two weeks.