Layman: Final Loss Most Painful In Titans Late Season Collapse

Titans vs. Jaguars 2023
Posted at 10:27 AM, Jan 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-08 11:27:23-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — There were long faces on the sideline and in the locker room. The end is always brutal no matter when it comes. The Titans 20-16 loss to the Jaguars Saturday night in Jacksonville completed their second half of the season collapse, from three games up in the AFC South in late November to seven consecutive losses and no playoffs in January.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort. Sensing his team needed a spark, Mike Vrabel went for it on two separate fourth and threes on the game’s second drive and Josh Dobbs converted them with well timed passes to Austin Hooper and Robert Woods, setting up the first of three Randy Bullock field goals on the night.

Derrick Henry ran 30 times for 109 yards despite the fact he was running behind an offensive line that featured three backups. His 14-yard run in the second quarter featured a vicious stiffarm of Rayshawn Jenkins and set up Dobbs 21-yard touchdown pass to Chig Okonkwo. That play gave the Titans their first two score lead in a game since they won 27-17 at Green Bay on Nov. 17th to improve to 7-3.

Dobbs hit Hooper for two more big completions in the 2:00 drill before half to set up 39-yard field goal that gave Tennessee a 13-7 lead. He then stepped up in the pocket to hit Woods to set up a 41-yard kick in the third quarter as the Titans found a way to get points on four of their first five possessions.

The defense did its part. Rashad Weaver, wearing eye black with the number three on it in honor of his former Pitt teammate Damar Hamlin, recovered a fumble when the Jaguars got a little too cute with an attempt at an option reverse in the first half and botched the exchange. The defense buckled down in the red zone on the Jaguars opening possession of the second half to force a field goal and forced a three and out after Tyson Campbell returned a Dobbs interception to the 25-yard line near the end of the third quarter.

The game plan and the effort was there to stop the late season slide, right the ship and capture a third straight division title. The defense was getting stops with consecutive three-and-outs in the fourth quarter and the offense was doing just enough to keep the Titans in front.

Even at 7-9 they were just minutes away from closing this game out. Dobbs scrambled. Jonathan Ward’s second effort on a third and three got just enough to move the chains. Henry rumbled for nine more yards. And a QB sneak gave the Titans a first down as the clock ticked under 4:00.

Two more Henry runs kept the clock moving and set up a third and six that could have potentially all but put the game away with a conversion. Instead, Dobbs was rocked from his blindside as he wound up for the pass and the ball shot forward, one hop into the arms of Josh Allen who then ran it back 37 yards to the end zone.

The TV announcers originally thought the play would be ruled incomplete. Dobbs said afterwards that he believed his arm was moving forward before the ball came free. The Titans fans still wanting to see a playoff game next week and not an improved draft position will claim it was a blown call for years to come.

There was no whistle. A replay -- that happened way too quickly considering the gravity of the situation -- confirmed the call on the field as a fumble. Touchdown Jaguars, and for the first time all night Jacksonville had the lead with 2:51 to go.

The Titans had all three timeouts left but now needed to go 75 yards for a touchdown with Dobbs, who was signed off the Lions practice squad just 18 days ago, at quarterback. He got them to midfield, but a sack, a false start and a check down set up a fourth and 13 play to keep the season alive. With pass rushers in his face Dobbs elected to check down again – just as Treylon Burks was coming open for potentially a big play – hitting Hassan Haskins who was quickly swarmed and tackled short of the first down marker.

Ballgame. The Jaguars became AFC South champions and the Titans season was over after a fourth quarter one-two punch that was both brutal and fitting for a season that went south.

The fumble was just the final straw of bad luck for a team that finished the season with 23 players on injured reserve and a NFL-high number of players used through the 17 game season. The final drive highlighted one of the league’s worst pass games, unable to protect the QB or even throw the ball to the first down marker with the season on the line.

The Titans didn’t lose Saturday or any time over the last seven weeks because of a lack of effort. They just weren’t good enough. A bad roster ravaged by injuries was just too much to overcome even for a team that has last year’s coach of the year and Henry rushing for another 1,500 yard season.

This team was out of gas and the ending was coming sooner than later. But for 57 minutes Saturday night it looked like the Titans might be able to delay their painful fate at least one more week and stretch their playoff streak to four consecutive years.

Instead, their most painful defeat of all awaited. And now, so too, does a long offseason and a very uncertain future for a team that is no longer on top of the AFC South.

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