Titans: 'It’s OK for doubt to creep in, but it ain’t OK for it to stay'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Proud football players aren’t fast to reveal doubt. But the way the Titans had played through 10 games, it was hard to believe some had not snuck into their locker room.

“Any doubts? Yeah, it probably crept in, we’re humans,” Arden Key admitted after the Titans beat Carolina 17-10 for their first win since Oct. 29. “So yeah, it definitely crept in. It’s OK for it to creep in. But it ain’t OK for it to stay. This builds our confidence. We went on three road trips, lost, came home and we had to get the win. If we had lost today, it would have been crazy.

Amani Hooker
Amani Hooker (37) celebrates a play against Carolina/ Courtesy Tennessee Titans

“It’s not a relief,” he said, exhaling a giant sigh to show the degree. “Like it’s a quick (breath),” he said, letting out a much less significant sigh.

The Titans didn’t stomp the Panthers, which would have offered a statement about the gap between them, now at 4-7, and their guests, now 1-10. Tennessee didn’t score as it had in their previous three home wins when they found 27, 27 and 28 points.

BryMakIt outgained Carolina by just 6 net yards and had four fewer first downs. The Panthers got four conversions by penalty, and a defensive hold against Kristian Fulton seemed questionable. The Panthers ran 67 offensive plays to the Titans’ 53, with 14 more than their hosts after halftime.

The ever-anemic offense got off the hook thanks to the sort of big defensive play the team’s been craving. 

Already up 7-3, Key flew in from Bryce Young’s blind side and hit the quarterback hard, jarring the ball free. An opportunistic Jeffery Simmons scooped it up and Will Levis and the offense were set up just 15 yards from the end zone. It took just two plays to find 7 points, a 5-yard completion to Chig Okonkwo and a 10-yard Derrick Henry scoring run to the left side for his second TD.

The Panthers provided another gift before intermission. 

They had the ball with 50 seconds left and the Titans out of timeouts. But on a second-and-2 and a third-and-2 from their own 18, they asked Young to throw when a run on either play would have run out the clock. Two incompletions meant they punted back to the Titans with 28 seconds left at their 38.

The Titans moved 27 yards in five efficient plays and got a 53-yard Nick Folk field goal, increasing their lead to 17-3. The Panthers managed a third-quarter TD but nothing more.

Tennessee killed some clock in crucial situations but the offense returned to its shrunken self. It came in averaging 16.8 points a game, and getting beyond that was going to be a struggle. The defense did the rest of the work.

Young helped. The Titans put him under a lot of pressure, and he was at his most threatening when he took off and ran. He only did so three times for 23 yards. Throwing, from the pocket or on the move, he looked to use every ounce of what the Panthers say is his 5-foot-10-inch, 204-pound frame and wasn’t getting a lot on the ball.

Levis’ accuracy is an issue, but he’s shown when he’s not able to step into a throw or needs to throw off his back foot that his arm is powerful enough to get the ball where it needs to go. I saw nothing from Young to suggest he can do similar things.

Can he be far better with increased protection and better weapons? What QB can’t? From this snapshot, I’d put the Panthers on the list of teams that will be looking for a new player at the position in 2025, 2026 at the latest.

The Titans get some confidence after winning, no matter who they beat.

Indianapolis is 6-5 after beating the Buccaneers Sunday and will come to Nashville with an Oct. 8 23-16 home win over the Titans in hand, division games tend to level out the talent based on familiarity and the Titans are unquestionably a different team at Nissan Stadium then they are at Lucas Oil Stadium or anywhere outside of Nashville.

“I think that you just get frustrated,” Vrabel said of the losing. “We just put a lot into it. I don't think there's doubt. We've got to eliminate bad football, eliminate the penalties, the X-plays, cover guys, penalties on third down that extend drives because our good is good enough to win. I know that. I've seen it and I believe in it. It's just the unfortunate mistakes that cost you points and cost you more possessions.”

Their good is good enough to win.

That leaves us with two questions. 

How often in the final six games will we see their good?

And if they produce it enough, will it actually be good enough for wins against Indy, Miami, Houston, Kuharsky megaphoneSeattle and Jacksonville?

Drawing Carolina at home in Week 12 certainly reset belief.

“I talked to the guys (before the game) about how we've got to get our juice back, we have to just get our mojo back,” Levis said. “It’s tough these past few weeks, looking around after games and seeing looks in dudes’ eyes, dudes that we all know are dogs and guys that go out there and have done this year-in and year-out.

“Let's regain that confidence. .... I think getting the win alone was enough to do that and hopefully, we can get that rolling and get these guys’ confidence back going into Indy.”

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