For the first time in Mike Vrabel’s five seasons as head coach, the Tennessee Titans have lost four straight games.
The Titans defense did well to contain quarterback Justin Herbert in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at SoFi Stadium, that is until L.A.’s final drive when Herbert twice connected with Mike Williams for 51 of the team’s final 55 yards. Those catches by Williams — whom the Titans passed on for Corey Davis in the 2017 NFL Draft — set up Cameron Dicker’s game-winning field goal with four seconds left.
From Los Angeles’ first touchdown in the first quarter to its second touchdown early in the fourth, the Titans defense held Herbert and the Chargers to five punts and two interceptions before they broke through four and a half minutes into the final quarter.
The Titans tied it 14-14 with less than a minute to go before Herbert led the Chargers into field goal range in just 44 seconds.
"It's crushing," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We found a way to battle back, and we made the plays we needed to tie the game, and we were thinking we were going to overtime at that point. Guys were ready to go win the game in overtime, and obviously they made some plays at the end and got themselves in a position to win the game."
Below are the things that stood out — good and bad — from the Titans’ Week 15 loss to the Chargers:
Bad: Never-ending injuries
While the Titans’ injury troubles may not entirely be the fault of Tennessee’s strength and conditioning staff, one has to wonder if it would behoove the team to make some changes given how the last two seasons have played out.
The Titans used an NFL record 91 players last season, and that number has already reached 80 this season. Losing stars like Harold Landry and Taylor Lewan for the season were big blows, but the team has lost several other key players this season, including Ryan Tannehill, Dillon Radunz, Nate Davis, Treylon Burks, Kyle Philips, Dontrell Hilliard, Jamarco Jones, Denico Autry, Kristian Fulton, Amani Hooker, David Long Jr., Elijah Molden, Zach Cunningham, Terrance Mitchell, Caleb Farley, Andrew Adams, Dylan Cole and Josh Thompson.
Good: Nobody is questioning Ryan Tannehill’s resilience
Tannehill attempted one pass before he was carted to the locker room for further evaluation after suffering what looked to be a severe ankle injury. He returned two drives later with a tightly wrapped right ankle and led the Titans on a tying 63-yard touchdown drive.
The 34-year-old QB, who missed two games earlier in the year with an ankle injury, completed 14 of 21 passes for 163 yards and an interception after returning and nearly led the Titans to a win in the fourth quarter.
"They did some initial checks and told me it looked OK," Tannehill told reporters after the game. "I was in a lot of pain, but I was able to get back out there and play. … The crazy, intense pain calmed down after a little bit of time, and I was able to come back in."
Malik Willis may very well be the future, but Tannehill presumably earned a little more favor with Titans fans after gutting it out on one ankle for three quarters.
Bad: Offensive line woes
The Titans have the worst offensive line in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, and Sunday’s loss certainly won’t help. Tannehill was pressured 11 times, hurried eight times, sacked four times, hit five times and his mobility was limited after his first quarter ankle injury.
While Dillon Radunz relieved Dennis Daley of his left tackle duties, it wasn’t long before Radunz exited the game with a knee injury in the first half. Despite affording Daley some help in the form of extra blockers, the 6-foot-6 tackle was still a liability, allowing a sack on 3rd-and-9 early in the fourth quarter that led to a missed Randy Bullock field goal. Daley’s gaffe turned a makeable 42-yard field goal to a more difficult 51 yarder.
Daley wasn’t the only O-lineman who had a rough game. Aaron Brewer was beat a few times and gave up a bad sack. With Daley and Brewer unreliable on the left side, 10 of Henry’s 21 carries went to the right, nine were up the middle, and only two were to the left.
Good: Solid defensive performance despite rash of injuries
Greg Mabin, Jack Gibbens, John Reid, Kevin Rader, Josh Kalu, Andre Smith and Tarell Basham. Those were just a few of the backups and reserve players the Titans needed to make it through Sunday’s game.
Down their leading tackler (Long Jr.), their leading sacker (Autry), their best cornerback, their best middle linebacker, a starting safety and a handful of defensive backs, the Titans still mustered three sacks, two interceptions, eight QB hits, five passes defensed, four tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries, and they held the Chargers to just 72 yards rushing and their third-lowest point total of the season.
Bad: Titans passing offense lacks explosiveness
Aside from one Chig Okonkwo 28-yard reception and a 37-yard screen pass to Henry, the Titans offense had just one other passing play longer than 10 yards. In fact, Tannehill attempted just one throw beyond 20 yards on Sunday, and on throws between 10 and 20 yards, he completed just 3 of 6 attempts for 51 yards.
Tennessee is tied for the eighth-fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more (36), and with rookie wideouts Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips both on the shelf, the Titans passing attack offers little-to-no threat of a home run.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_