It was another Thursday Night Football appearance on another November night, and the same result for the Tennessee Titans, a last play sack, and a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 19-13 defeat leaves the Titans heading into the mini Bye 2-8, and surely with all hopes of the AFC South gone.
It is a bad football team with bad leadership, which plays very hard and never gives up. These traits have been true for the entire season up until this point. Ken Whisenhunt was a woeful failure as a coach, Mike Mularkey is certainly little better. Only the improved tougher attitude of this team under Mularkey has set it apart positively from the morass of the Whisenhunt regime. But the sideline leadership is no better at all.
Coaching decisions, and a lack of any innovation, played as large a role in this latest defeat as anything. When you are 2-7 yet still within shouting distance in the division, you must take chances, push the envelope. When the Titans had such an opportunity, they failed completely. Not that the Jaguars were any better.
The game changed on a fourth down decision. With 4:29 remaining and the Titans with a 13-9 lead, Marcus Mariota completed a pass to Delanie Walker that measured perhaps six inches short of the first down. It left fourth and six inches, at the Titans 24. I fully understand conventional wisdom, but where has convention gotten this team? It was a clear situation to go against convention, and allow your big quarterback to use his size and pick up a first down that would have greatly enhanced the chance for ultimate victory.
Instead Mularkey went with convention and after Rashad Greene returned Brett Kern’s punt 63 yards to the Tennessee 5, the writing was on the wall. Blake Bortles found Julius Thomas on a 5-yard touchdown the very next play to give Jacksonville a 16-13 advantage. The Titans first play of the next possession ended in a fumble, the Jaguars then confronted with their own fourth and six inches decision. The Jaguars lined up to go for it, Mularkey inexplicably calling the Titans final timeout, and then the Jaguars even more inexplicably, then decided to kick a field goal still leaving Tennessee with a chance. Not good management either way.
The final possession was about a young quarterback, in a situation he had never been in before, not handling it well. From the outset Mariota’s pace was too slow, almost as though he thought the clock ever stopped in pro football, which it does not while complete and in the field of play. For the drive he threw ten passes, completing six, and while you want your quarterback to be cool under pressure, you also want him to act as though he has a pulse.
It came down to one final play from the Jacksonville 23, and Mariota did the one thing you cannot do, ever, at the end of a game, he took a sack. Just as the immortal “Clipboard Jesus” last season on Thursday Night Football, Mariota took a sack on the game’s final play. Charlie Whitehurst is a veteran quarterback, now the Colts problem, Mariota is a rookie one and with how he had been playing I suppose we forgot that fact.
Here’s hoping Mariota uses this as a learning experience, I have no doubt he will, and also no doubt that next time he will run things with a bit more urgency while still looking cool despite it all.