Titans Undone By Sacks Again As They Fall to 5-10

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The late game-losing drive we saw the Titans allow Seattle to piece together at Nissan Stadium Sunday to secure a 20-17 win didn’t hit as hard because the path to defeat has become so common, making us somewhat numb to it.

Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime for the Texans just a week earlier. Gardner Minshew connected with Alec Pierce for 55 yards, putting the Colts on the porch for an OT TD in Week 13. In Pittsburgh back on Nov. 2, the Steelers went 92 yards in 11 plays to move ahead for good late.

Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Peter Skoronski (77) picks up quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) after he was sacked by the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023.
Ryan Tannehill, post-sack/ © Andrew Nelles The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

So when the Seahawks got the ball down 4 with 3 minutes and 21 seconds left, it was not hard to envision what was about to unfold.

A defense that started five players we didn’t know back when the camp started – Marlon Davidson, Jaleel Johnson, Otis Reese, Eric Garror and Mike Brown – failed to hold, allowing three third-down conversions during a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended when Geno Smith hit tight end Colby Parkinson for a 5-yard touchdown.

The Titans had 57 seconds and a timeout to get in range for Nick Folk to tie it with a field goal and force overtime, but they didn’t come close.

Ryan Tannehill held the ball for what seemed like an eternity, trying to allow something to develop and was sacked by Boye Mafe on a play that took 7 seconds and forced the team to use the timeout right away. He found a 17-yard pass to Chig Okonkwo. The offense spiked the ball with 35 seconds left and Tannehill dropped back and waited a long time again, taking a 10-yard sack. By the time they got off another snap, 18 seconds had elapsed.

With 11 seconds remaining, he found Colton Dowell for a 3-yard gain and time expired before the Titans could get back to the line to clock the ball again.

So bad.

Three perspectives, from the quarterback, the coach and a key lineman:

“We’ve got to cover some ground there, right?” Tannehill said. “You can’t be throwing the ball to the check-downs and expect to be getting the 40 yards we needed to be able to take a shot, a swing at it. So, yeah, we had long-developing routes, we’re trying to push the ball down the field and it didn’t happen.

“Those sacks are tough to overcome in 2-minute,” Vrabel said. “We talk to our defense about the sacks really make it difficult, especially when you have to use your timeouts. So, we’ve got to make sure that we try to get rid of it, and we try to get open quicker, and we try to protect a little bit longer.”

“Two minutes is obviously a tough situation to be in as an O-line, given the nature of throwing the ball and the D-line knows you’re throwing and they can kind of tee off a little bit," Peter Skoronski said. "I haven’t seen the film and don’t know exactly what broke down, but we’ve always got to do a better job of that. You’ve got to be great in those critical situations. There were times like Miami where we were and today where we weren’t. It’s where you get motivated as an O-lineman, it’s where you make your money.”

In all, Tannehill took six sacks. The Titans have now allowed 56 sacks of Tannehill, Will Levis and Malik Willis with two games remaining. The offense allowed 56 in 2019 when a full season was 16 games.

Somehow, based on all the new pieces the Titans had to plug in, the idea of a moral victory was raised to Vrabel, and he had none of it.

It was predictable that Vrabel would find nothing to savor or celebrate in this. The Titans fought and scrapped and were in it. They needed to find a way to finish,

“There are no moral victories in life, there are no moral victories in professional football,” he said. “I thank the staff. I thank the players. But again, we strive for much more than that. That's plain and simple. That's the mindset that we must have to get back out of this thing and find a way to win next week.”

As for the defense and the failure to make a stop, there is a degree of acceptance. And why wouldn’t there be?

“It’s been like that all season,” said Arden Key, who had one of the Titans’ three sacks. “You just try to find ways to stop it. We up and down. Sometimes, we'll close out 2-minute. Sometimes we won't. The frustrating part is pretty much over with because we've been doing it all year.”

Two other issues out of this game…

Tre Avery: The evidence will be clear on several guys who simply cannot be on the roster in 2024. 

One of them is reserve cornerback Tre Avery, who started for the second time this season and has played in 14 of 15 games. If Avery is in a depth role, injuries are going to put him in position to be called on to start.

While he’s a scrappy fighter they’ve got to get to a point where they upgrade who they will be calling on if they are diminished by injuries. Sunday they were without their top two corners, with Kristian Fulton (hamstring) on IR and Sean Murphy-Bunting (hip) also sidelined.

In the fourth quarter, Avery was beaten by DK Metcalf on an 11-yard TD pass to the back pylon, called for a defensive holding penalty that was declined, flagged for pass interference against Metcalf that put the Seahawks on the 5-yard line on the game-winning drive and gave up the go-ahead touchdown to Parkinson in a mismatch of eight inches and 83 pounds.

That last one can certainly be an assignment problem, and drawing the 6-4, 234 Metcalf is also tough, but the Titans have to contend with him better in those situations and no matter the character Avery has for it, the skill set isn’t good enough.

Officials: Speaking of Metcalf’s touchdown catch, it was a lovely piece of footwork that required an official to gauge both his handle on the ball and the placement of his feet. We know it’s a difficult call in real-time, but we also know the game officials have to do one thing in the seconds after the play – make an actual call. 

Field judge Dyrol Prioleau was at the front pylon looking directly at the play to his left and while replays cut off quickly they show his hands starting to come together as if he was starting to call the pass incomplete. Ultimately he and back judge Dino Paganelli looked at each other and made no definitive call.

“They just stood around and looked at each other, and then eventually blew the whistle, and then decided that it was incomplete, forcing Pete (Carroll) to challenge,” Vrabel said.

Kuharsky megaphoneThey need to see it and make a call. If they don’t, there should be some sort of mechanism where they can simply say they didn’t see it and rely on their replay official on-site or headquarters in New York. 

But showing zero transparency and just returning the ball to its spot and pretending as if they made a call when they didn’t is a scam. Carroll had to challenge, and while he won, it was his second and he’d lost his first. That TD came with 12:10 left.

If the crew missed another call that went against the Seahawks between then and the 2-minute mark, the Seattle coach would not have been able to challenge again.

That's a joke. WIll the two officials be scolded? Fined? Downgraded? We, of course, will never know.

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