No offense: Terrible Titans swallow fifth loss in a row

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Through an awful offensive season and an especially bad showing during a losing streak that moved to five games Saturday, the Titans have concentrated on team unity.

They win and lose together. They understand how they are built, where their shortcomings are and what they have to overcome – which has now been too much more often than not. On Christmas Eve it was especially apparent with limited rookie Malik Willis at quarterback against the NFL’s worst team in the coldest home game in franchise history.

Amari Rodgers

© Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

He threw a crucial interception and Derrick Henry gave away a vital fumble as the offense produced two whole touchdowns in a 19-14 loss that dropped Tennessee to 7-8.

Jeffery Simmons wasn't asked anything about the offense before he said he wasn't pointing any fingers at Willis.

After it was over, a wife or girlfriend of someone on the team trudged up a dingy cement staircase leading from the field level, where there is a room for player families, to an exit to the parking lot.

“Fuck the offense, I’ll say it,” she said to no one in particular, repeating the theme to complete a venting session.

Willis wound up hitting on 14 of 23 passes for 99 yards and was sacked four times. The first pick was a killer giving up possession near midfield with 1:33 left in the game; his second was on a last-play Hail Mary. It all amounted to a passer rating of 34.5. He ran seven times for 43 yards and a TD.

He said it’s not about the stats and that you can go worry about your fantasy team.

But then he oddly rattled off a list of statistical categories as a way of framing the game.

“That’s the way the game goes,” he said, “Whoever doesn’t turn the ball over, whoever gets the most completions, whoever gets the most first downs, they win the game.”

The Texans improved to 2-12-1, still in line for the top pick in the NFL draft.

While Mike Vrabel would not say the buy-in is down, he did suggest that the commitment through the team is not as big as he’d like.

“If you as a professional athlete just work 8 to 4 or 8 to 4:30, I don’t know how much you get out of it,” he said. “Maybe God gifted you with some really, really cool talents. We just have to all do a little bit more, that’s with me in the preparation and that’s with the coaches and the players. Just a little bit more of everything.”

I asked if he’s got 8 to 4 players.

“Again, we just make sure everybody is as committed as we need to be,” he said.

He’s not raising that unless he’s got someone or a few people in mind, I don’t think. The candidates aren’t apparent beyond, perhaps, Zach Cunningham, who revealed he wasn’t worried about staying in tune with the team during his long stretch of elbow rehab and who played with some disinterest before that. In his first game back after six weeks on IR he left early, reinjured.

Vrabel has never raised such a thing before, but he’s never had a team with so much temptation to dump out before. Maybe he’s just trying to get extra out of a tired, beaten-up bunch that started two offensive line backups and ended with three. He knows they will hear the message.

But even far closer to healthy with Ryan Tannehill in place, a home playoff game was going to be a real challenge. If this version of the team finds a way in, even with Kristian Fulton and Amani Hooper and maybe even David Long back, what can it really do? No matter how confident these Titans are, doubt entered their collective mind well before loss No. 8.

Vrabel said from early on in his tenure that a team’s true character is revealed in tough times, not in good ones. What’s being revealed now is not good.

The typically sure-handed Henry has four fumbles in the last three games and has lost three of them. He was tortured about the most recent one when he spoke after the game while Willis, who is still feeling his way into the league, said he’s blessed and was just as happy as if the Titans would have won – a comment sure to thrill fans miserable with the result.

Roger McCreary, another rookie, gave up two passes totaling 57 yards on the drive that produced the Texans' game-winning points, failing to turn his head on one and turning it too late on the other – an issue that arises far too often in the Tennessee secondary.

“Yes, I would say that was most definitely 100 percent my fault, I did not get my head around quick enough,” he said. “That’s something I can work on. I feel I’ve just got to do better.”

As for that offensive line that saw Corey Levin start for Ben Jones and Jordan Roos take Nate Davis' spot as well as Le'Raven Clark eventually replace Nicholas Petit-Frere...

"We just didn't do enough to win," Roos said. "It's hard to look past that. We were ready to go to battle out there and we didn't do enough to get it done... We've got to come back, we've got to pick up the pieces. It's hardhat and lunch pail kind of league and those are the people who succeed."

Henry did get 126 yards and a score on 23 carries. That's a solid day's work, but the Titans actually needed more from him given Willis' limitations and Henry's history against the soft Texans' defense. The last four times he faced them he averaged 223 yards and 2.25 touchdowns.

And while the Titans are super-injured, the talent-thin Texans were without Dameon Pierce, Derek Stingley, Kenyon Green and John Metchie and lost Tytus Howard and Teagan Quitoriano along the way.

apple icon 144x144 precomposedThe Titans simply have to do better.

Thursday night’s game against Dallas has no playoff implications. No matter what happens in Cowboys-Titans or Jaguars-Texans, the Week 18 season finale between the Titans and Jaguars in Jacksonville will be for the AFC South crown.

Vrabel said that, the short turnaround and physical state of his team will prompt him to alter his regular approach.

But several Titans said it can’t mean nothing for a team that has not won in 38 days.

“I don’t know, every game counts in my book,” Kevin Byard said. “I’m going to go out there as a pro, I’m not going to go out there on Thursday night and play as if it don’t matter. I’m going to bust my behind for this team like I always do. Every single game and I think everybody should treat it that way.”

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