It was an incredible trip to London for the Titans right up until the bitter end. A failed two-point conversion in the game’s final minute dooming them to a 20-19 loss to the Chargers.
In their first ever international game the Titans put on a show, rallying from 11 down in the second half to seemingly tie the game on Marcus Mariota’s fourth and goal touchdown pass to tight end Luke Stocker.
That’s when head coach Mike Vrabel, coaching just his seventh NFL game, solidified his reputation as one of the NFL’s most aggressive coaches by electing to go for two and the lead. Only this time it backfired as the Titans failed to convert and lost for the third consecutive week.
“I told the team that I made a decision that we were going to be aggressive early in the drive,” Vrabel said. “When that drive started, I thought in my mind that if we scored, when we scored if there was less than 40 seconds we were going to go for two and we were going to win the game, and if there was a minute and 30, we were going to kick the extra point and go play defense. So I got a lot of faith in our players. And so I can't -- not going to second-guess the call. Just didn't work out.”
Derrick Henry started the comeback with a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter, which snapped the Titans’ 155 minute, 17 second streak of not reaching the end zone.
Then, trailing by seven, the Titans marched down the field from their own 11-yard line. Dion Lewis’s spinning, season-long run of 36 yards set up Stocker’s apparent game-tying catch.
“We had the mindset to go and win the game,” Lewis said. “We just came up short.”
The joy on the Titans’ sideline was short lived. The Titans first crack at the two-point try resulted in Mariota scrambling away from pressure and failing to hit Corey Davis in a tiny window in the back of the end zone. But the Chargers bailed them out with a defensive holding penalty.
The penalty moved the ball to the one for their second chance. The Titans had run the ball effectively, especially in the second half, but were without their top two offensive guards due to injury. The play call perhaps reflected that with Mariota dropping back, but finding no one open. When he ultimately let the ball go, his pass was tipped beyond the reach of a leaping Taywan Taylor.
“I love that he has the confidence in us to go make that,” Mariota said. “We just didn't execute.”
The game probably shouldn’t have come down to one play in the first place.
Mariota threw an interception near the goal line late in the first half, and the Titans went just 2-5 in the red zone on the afternoon. It’s conceivable they could’ve had 16 more points in a game they wound up losing by one.
“We just didn't do enough to score, to win really,” Mariota said. “I thought we did a good job of moving the ball, got in the red zone. But when you kick field goals, these teams are too good, man. They're going to find ways to score touchdowns and you're going to end up being behind, so we've gotta be more efficient in the red zone. We've gotta make the most of our opportunities. We just didn't capitalize there.
The Chargers made the Titans pay when Phillip Rivers took advantage of a blown coverage on the opening drive of the second half, hitting Mike Williams for a 55-yard touchdown.
It was the second explosive play touchdown Los Angeles had on the day. Tyrell Williams blew past Logan Ryan on the Chargers’ very first play from scrimmage for a 75-yard touchdown. A continuation of the backbreaking big play that has plagued the Titans’ defense this season.
“Those plays get you beat,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “You can’t get beat by your man or have a miscommunication and a blown coverage because the other team will make you pay for those mistakes.”
So now the Titans leave London wondering what could have been. Instead of being 4-3 and still on top of the AFC South, they have now lost three straight games and are staring up at the suddenly surging Texans who have won four in a row.
The bye week will help this team get healthy, but other problems persist.
They have a long, long flight to think about those, and the gutsy decision that didn’t pay off.