Even in defeat, the Tennessee Titans showed their strength
By Brady Akins
Forget the end result, the Tennessee Titans are in good shape
What in the world are you supposed to think after a game like that? What kinds of things are you supposed to take away? I know it took me hours to find one clear answer.
Here you have a game where the Tennessee Titans were outclassed. Offense, defense, special teams, coaching— all of it. The 5-0 Pittsburgh Steelers looked a league above the 5-0 Titans.
Even when the ball started to bounce in the Titans favor, literally and metaphorically, and that 20 points deficit Tennessee faced at one point slowly started to shrink— this was a team that looked a step behind their undefeated counterpart.
But at the end of the day, the final scoreline won’t tell that story. A 27-24 finish to the now only undefeated team in the league was a few feet on a missed last-second field goal away from painting an entirely different picture. From that play, and every play before that one, the Steelers looked like the better football team.
But here stood Tennessee— a 46-yard field goal attempt away from enduring and surviving. So you have to ask, what in the world are you supposed to think after a game like that?
A few potential takeaways— The level of talent on defense does not match their production. Even with the presence of Jadaveon Clowney, Kevin Byard, Jayon Brown, and Rashaan Evans, something about that side of the ball is clearly broken. Look no further than the Steelers third-down efficiency for that, going 13-18 on their attempts over the course of the game.
Holding Pittsburgh to that many attempts is great, honestly. The Titans were playing well enough on first and second down to force 18 third-down attempts– tied for the most they’ve faced all season. The success rate on those 18, however, is at the heart of their problem. When offenses get into passing situations against the Titans, they usually come out on the other side unscathed, and the Steelers proved that today once again, converting on more than a few third and longs. Tennessee can’t generate pressure, they can’t get to the quarterback, and right now, their cornerbacks aren’t playing nearly well enough to contain even average wide receivers.
Your big takeaway could be the elite play of AJ Brown, who continues to look like one of the NFL’s budding stars. Maybe you noticed a bounce-back game from Jayon Brown, who at times looked better in pass coverage than the team’s cornerbacks. Or maybe you noticed that even without a major game from Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill was good enough at times to lead the team down the field and carry the offense on his own.
But here’s another potential takeaway. Even in defeat, even at their worst when they struggled for a large majority of the game to find any kind of rhythm in any phase of the game— the Tennessee Titans showed one of their greatest strengths and one of the biggest hallmarks of the Mike Vrabel era.
The Tennessee Titans showed their ability to ‘just find a way,’ and even in their first loss of the season, maybe the biggest takeaway should be that this Titans team is the real deal.
Just Find A Way
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Things looked bad against the Steelers. Things looked really bad against the Steelers. Things looked ‘at one point in the first half Pittsburgh had more touchdowns (2) than the Titans had yards (1)’ bad against the Steelers.
And even when Tennessee got the ball back and managed to find the endzone to snap that 14 points to one singular yard deficit, not even then could they stop the spiral. Pittsburgh would still get the ball back and get a field goal on the board on the following drive. The Titans did get the chance to cut the Steelers lead to three before the end of the half on the following possession– and managed just five yards on three plays with that chance. Pittsburgh got the ball back, scored a touchdown, and the tiny glimmer of hope that presented itself by holding the Steelers to just a field goal was quickly extinguished.
But the Titans came out in the second half and… well, things still looked bad. With the opportunity to prove they could adjust after a poor showing in the first half, Tennessee went three and out on offense, and allowed another scoring drive on defense, falling down 27-7 in a game that looked doomed to fail right from the Steelers first possession 10-minute scoring drive.
The Titans had every reason to fold their hand. But slowly, inexplicably, through creating turnovers, through big plays to big stars, through forging bits and pieces of success through the running game against the league’s best run defense, the Tennessee Titans came back. And nearly won a game that looked ugly from the opening kickoff.
The Titans proved that they have so much to clean up as the season progresses. But they also showed that– even while playing at their absolute worst against one of the best teams in the league– that they’re a team that can always find a way to compete. Imagine what they’ll look like while they’re playing at their best.
Nobody likes silver linings. Nobody feels good about almost winning. But the fact remains, the Titans lost against a very good team without playing anywhere close to their peak. It’s the mark of an elite team. It’s a sign that they won’t often lose the games they should win because even their worst is close to the highest level of most teams.
It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. But it’s not the end of the road, far from it. Even in their first loss of the season, I learned one thing about the Tennessee Titans above all else.
This team is the real deal, and they will make for a very fun 2020 season that lasts well past Week 17.