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Front Page - Friday, December 24, 2021

Titans fumbling away once-promising season

Ultimately, the Steelers game was lost when wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was tackled a yard short of a first down on a fourth down reception. But earlier turnovers were the real culprit. - Photo by Shelley Lipton | Icon Sportswire

After the Tennessee Titans’ Sunday loss in Pittsburgh, Coach Mike Vrabel was asked if the game got away from his club.

“It didn’t look like it got away to me. It looked like we came up a few inches short on fourth down. We overcame a lot,” Vrabel said after the game, referring to receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine being stopped by Joe Hagan a yard short of a first down at the 10-yard line in the closing seconds of the game.

But the truth is, not only did that game get away from the Titans, it is starting to look like the 2021 season might be getting away from them, as well. And that’s because the football keeps getting away from them.

Sure, injuries are a major factor in the Titans having lost three of four games leading up to Thursday Night’s home game against San Francisco) following an 8-2 start.

But in reality, the opportunities have been there for the club to stay afloat, even with the injuries that have cost them the services of Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and a host of other key role players.

Of those three losses, there has been a common element – turnovers. Both not forcing enough of them and committing too many of them.

Vrabel has been fond of saying that losing the turnover battle is almost a sure recipe for defeat, and the Titans have become living proof of it. In their five losses this season, they have just two takeaways and have lost the ball via either fumble or interception 16 times for a not-so-tidy minus-14 turnover ratio.

The fact that the Titans are minus-7 in turnover ratio altogether and are still 9-5 and still in the driver’s seat to at least win the AFC South is remarkable, but it is a fatal flaw that must be corrected regardless of whether Henry returns to the lineup or not.

Truthfully, the Titans are still quite capable of running the football even without their superstar running back. D’Onta Foreman has emerged as a nice find, going for 100-plus yards twice in the past three games.

Also, Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols have been solid enough complements to Foreman that the Titans have rushed for 200 yards as a team in two of those games. That is something that should be indicative of success – until you factor in the turnovers. The Titans turned the ball over four times each in those two games.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill also has become infected with the interception bug. He left the Pittsburgh game with exactly as many interceptions this season as he had touchdown passes – 14. This comes on the heels of having thrown 55 TD passes to just 13 interceptions the previous two years.

While all those picks are certainly not on Tannehill’s shoulders, given his spotty protection and the lack of weapons on the outside – Julio Jones can’t stay healthy, and Brown has been beset with injuries – the quarterback is still ultimately responsible for what happens when the ball leaves his hands.

Tannehill has to snap out of his funk during the final few weeks of the season because the turnovers are undoing not only what the offense can do but is wasting some superior defensive efforts in recent weeks.

No matter what players are available to the Titans in the postseason, their stay in the playoffs will likely be short unless they can curtail their generosity with the football.