Tennessee Titans: How turnovers destroyed a gimme victory

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17): Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17): Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

On a sloppy day in Nashville, the Tennessee Titans lost a sloppy game against the Houston Texans, a division opponent. At the end of the day, the two significant factors that led to the loss: turnovers and talent.

Last week, I argued that the Tennessee Titans needed to let Ryan Tannehill throw more on early downs. Well, Ryan Tannehill threw four interceptions and the offense turned the ball over on downs twice. On his first interception, Tannehill clearly did not see the underneath defender. On his second, the route and the throw were horrible.

This play came in the third quarter right after an incredible throw to get them right outside the red zone.

The third interception came during a critical drive in the fourth quarter. Tannehill missed way inside, and it appeared he was looking for Dez Fitzpatrick, a fourth-round rookie, to break inside.

The fourth interception was thrown in a must-have drive. Tannehill threw down the sideline in between a safety and a flat corner who came up from the flat to pick the ball off.

As for talent, the Titans’ injuries are well documented with Derrick Henry and Julio Jones out. During the game, A.J. Brown also went out with a chest injury after a hard hit after a catch. This left the Titans well understaffed throughout much of the second half.

However, the offense in the second half looked very much alive. The Titans got the ball for the first time in the second half with 6:55 left in the third quarter. After the Titans’ defense stopped the Texans’ opening drive, they muffed the punt and gave the ball to the Texans at the five yard line. So, at a deficit of 19 points, the Titans went no-huddle.

This turned out to be a great decision, as the offense went on a 13-play drive resulting in an 18-yard strike by Tannehill to Fitzpatrick over the middle. On the next drive, a key turnover on downs occurred. With the score at 19-6 with 14:38 left in the fourth quarter, the Titans went for it on a fourth and six at the Houston 24 yard line.

According to a fourth-down bot created by Ben Baldwin, the decision was a “toss-up.” The Titans chose to go for it and did not get it. Mike Vrabel likely made this decision because of the rainy weather, and the missed extra point on the first touchdown.

It is hard for me to be upset at an aggressive approach on fourth downs. However, the distance (six yards) and the lack of Brown on the field felt like the conversion had a low chance of happening. The defense was playing well, so a chance at three points seemed like a good option. A good field goal would have made the score 19-9.

Alas, the Titans did not get the first down. The defense forced their second straight three and out giving the Titans the ball back with 12:57 left in the game. Coming back to the no-huddle attack again, the Titans were moving the ball quite well. However, on a first down after an incredible 46 yard throw down the middle to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Tannehill thew his second interception.

Again, the Tennessee Titans’ defense showed up and forced another three and out. At this point, the Titans had clearly figured out how to stop the Texans’ offense. Giving the ball back to the Titans with 10:02 left on the clock, they returned to their effective no-huddle attack. After a sack on first down, Tannehill went five for five and the Titans scored on an odd fumble and scoop.

The score was now 19-13. If the defense could hold the Texans one more time, it felt like the Titans were going to be able to pull the game out. The defense forced another three and out giving the ball back to the Titans with 6:15 left. That was the fourth straight three and out forced by the defense. However, a critical miscommunication between Tannehill and Fitzpatrick led to the third interception of the game and put the game away when the Texans turned that into three points.

During the drive that led to the interception, the Titans abandoned their effective no-huddle approach. After moving the ball at will for the whole second half, the offense decided to move back to their more common single back, under-center approach. I do not understand the decision.

It appeared as if the Tennessee Titans were playing safe because they did not believe they could keep playing as they had been for the entire second half: great defense and a fast-paced offense. Why did the coaches not believe this would work for the rest of the game?

After a negative run on first down in the second set of downs that drive, Tannehill threw an incompletion on second down and the interception on third. Now, of course, the interception at this point in the game was devastating whether they were in no-huddle or not.

But perhaps if they did not run the ball on first down, there wouldn’t be the air of desperation that surrounded that fateful 3rd-and-13 backed up at their own 26-yard line.

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With this loss to a Houston team that was on an 8-game losing streak, all is not lost for the Titans. As they head to the New England Patriots next week still lacking Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, and potentially AJ Brown, the road will still be tough. However, the defense played phenomenally and will go against rookie quarterbacks in their next two games with a bye in between. The Titans’ best bet is to trust the defense and get healthy.