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Front Page - Friday, December 3, 2021

Turnovers hit alarming level for sinking Titans

Turnovers and inexperienced players helped the Titans to a second consecutive loss Sunday. - Photo by Fred Kfoury III | AP

The Tennessee Titans limp into their much-needed bye week on a two-game losing streak.

At some point before the season ends, the Titans hope to have their A-list players, including A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree and maybe even Derrick Henry, back to bolster a team that has been so depleted by injuries that they sailed right past the record for players used in a season Sunday, playing four new players to bring their season total to 86 with five games remaining.

Regardless of injuries, and no matter who is on the field, one thing has to change if the Titans are going to go anywhere for the rest of the regular season and the postseason: They have to start taking care of the football.

When the Titans turned the ball over five times two weeks ago in a stunning home loss to the Houston Texans, it was considered a bit of an outlier. After all, Ryan Tannehill had never thrown four interceptions in a game before.

But against New England, the Titans turned it over four more times. Henry had not lost a fumble all season before he went down with a foot injury a month ago against Indianapolis. Each of the Titans’ three running backs Sunday – Dontrelle Hilliard, D’Onta Foreman and Khari Blasingame – lost a fumble. Those lost fumbles helped to negate the fact that both Hillard and Foreman each ran for more than 100 yards. How else to explain 270 yards rushing and losing by 23 points?

Teams that are short-handed have very little margin for error. Turnovers are especially unacceptable.

“The biggest thing with the running backs is that we’ve got to protect the football, run hard and try to do the things we got to do to help the team win,’’ says Foreman, who had the football punched out at the end of a 30-yard run. “As for myself, I have to do a better job of securing the ball and finishing my run.’’

The Titans also had some positives, especially considering the patchwork lineup they were forced to field Sunday. But it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the mistakes.

“We did some good things,’’ Titans coach Mike Vrabel says. “We did some obvious things that are going to get you beat. That is somewhat frustrating.

“Can’t go on the road, especially against a good team, and do those types of things and have penalties and start drives on the 10-yard line. Penalties on special teams, turnovers. So you don’t have to look too hard on why we lost.”

As for Tannehill, his play has dropped off since the loss of all his major weapons to injuries. For two-plus seasons, Tannehill has been exactly what the Titans offense needed at quarterback. He took care of the football, was a great complement to Henry in the run game and was a steady and heady leader on the field.

Tannehill was plagued by interceptions during preseason practice this year, but Titans players and coaches said it wasn’t a concern, it was simply Tannehill working through things. After all, Tannehill got precious little time to work with Brown and Jones due to their injuries.

Now, with both on IR, many of the same issues that were prevalent in camp have returned. Only this time, they count.

Tannehill leads the NFL with 13 interceptions – matching his total from the previous two years combined.

Of course, throwing to Cody Hollister or Dez Fitzpatrick is certainly not the same as throwing to Brown or Jones. Adjusting on the fly to less-experienced receivers can be a difficult process.

“Yeah, it’s an added element, no doubt about it,” Tannehill says. “Trying to figure out what guys that we have playing are doing well and how we can use their skill set to put us in a good situation.

“Then you’re also studying (the opponent). So definitely an added element, but like I said, I’m proud of our guys. I felt coming in, the confidence built for me throughout the week. Just the more reps that we got on the field with each other, and as the plan kind of came together throughout the week, I felt really confident coming in.”

Tannehill adds he remains confident that the Titans will reset during the bye week and reestablish themselves as a contender.

“I’m 100% confident,” he says. “Excited that we have that opportunity out in front of us. As things hopefully start coming together for us a little bit, we’re cleaning up some of the details and the turnovers obviously.

“As we get this thing going again, we’re going to be in good shape,” Tannehill continues. “We got the guys to do it. We have guys that have battled through. We’ve been dealing with stuff all year, and guys consistently find a way to battle, find a way to go out and compete.”