NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Amy Adams Strunk doesn't believe the Titans are a championship contender. That was the message the team's controlling owner sent when she fired general manager Jon Robinson last week.
On Sunday that belief seemed to be solidified as the Titans lost 36-22 at home to the 4-8 Jaguars. Jacksonville scored 29 unanswered points, helped largely by four Tennessee turnovers, on the way to its first win in Nashville since 2013.
The Titans had owned this series, winning five straight and seven of eight under Mike Vrabel. But that doesn't matter when you can't hold on to the football.
Up 7-0 after a brilliant opening drive, Ryan Tannehill was drilled from his blind side, after Travon Walker scooted right around struggling left tackle Dennis Daley, and fumbled at his own 20. Two possessions later with the Titans up 14-7, Tannehill was seemingly on a different page than Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, throwing the ball when the receiver wasn't even looking right into the arms of safety Andrew Wingard.
Even star running back Derrick Henry contributed to the giveaways with a pair of fumbles. The first came as he was fighting for extra yards in Jacksonville territory late in the first half and was rocked by Shaq Quarterman. The second came on a bizarre gadget play in the fourth quarter when the direct snap was low and he couldn't cover it with Jaguars defenders diving at his feet.
The Jags scored 20 points off the four turnovers to keep their AFC South division hopes alive for at least another week, while a Titans team that was once 7-3 now holds just a two game lead in the division after three consecutive losses.
The performance just adds to the questions about Adams Strunk's decision to fire Robinson and the direction of her team.
Robinson had overseen six straight winning seasons and had this team in place for a third straight division title. But even if the decision to part ways with him, despite tendering him a contract extension last February, had been made, did it have to be done now?
Adams Strunk told the Associated Press that her mind was made up and there was no point in waiting, but by doing so she provided an awfully big distraction this week for a team that generally treats distractions like a four-letter word.
Ownership made the decision on Tuesday, but it was Mike Vrabel and the players that were left to answer big picture questions about the organization on Wednesday and Thursday before Adams Strunk answered a few questions from the A.P.'s Teresa Walker on Friday afternoon.
Her decision also made it clear that she's convinced this team won't go anywhere in the playoffs, despite the likelihood of it wrapping up the division title by Christmas. The message there is that a locker room that prides itself on a "next man up" mentality through injuries and adversity has an owner that no longer believes that the next man up is good enough.
And Sunday that proved to be the case as the Titans lost to a team with a losing record for the first time this season.
Daley and the offensive line faltered again, surrendering four sacks and giving up several other big hits on Tannehill. Even Henry, who started the game with a career-high 96 first quarter yards was unable to sustain the production in the later stages of the game.
Henry and the Titans offense were once known for punishing people as they closed out wins in the fourth quarter, but the two-time NFL rushing champ has now gone 13 games dating back to the playoff loss last January without a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The entire offense is averaging just 5.3 points per second half this season.
And a defense that was supposed to be the strength of this team is now a shell of itself, greatly testing that next man up mantra. With Denico Autry out and Jeffery Simmons hobbled, the pass rush was non-existent Sunday against Trevor Lawrence. David Long joined Zach Cunningham on injured reserve, leaving the linebackers dangerously thin. Cornerback Kristian Fulton missed another game due to injury as well.
The result was a clean pocket for Lawrence and a third straight opposing QB to pass for over 300 yards against the Titans. Lawrence threw for a career-high 362. Tight end Evan Engram set career-highs with 11 receptions for 162 yards and grabbed two touchdowns.
In other words, it was no fluke what happened Sunday. The Jaguars looked like the better team, just as Adams Strunk's move seemed to suggest early in the week.
Whether or not that decision actually played a role in the loss, we may never know. But this much is clear, an even bigger shakeup is coming to Ascension St. Thomas Sports Park this offseason
The only questions are how big will it be and can this team regroup to accomplish something meaningful before this season comes to an end.