If last week’s loss to the Bills was frustrating, this was demoralizing. With an opportunity to get back on track at home against an AFC rival, the Titans were completely manhandled by the Ravens in a 21-0 loss.
Maybe the Ravens are that good. Maybe the injuries are just too much to continue to overcome. Or maybe the Titans just aren’t that good. Whatever it is, a team that somehow found a way to start the season 3-1 in the midst of all those injuries, through not much more than grit and guile, has seemingly run out of answers.
They had opportunities to win in Buffalo, but three turnovers and a lackluster offense gave the struggling Bills hope and the Titans’ defense failed to get a stop in the final minutes to prevent Steven Hauschka’s walk-off field goal.
This, however, was a systematic beatdown. The Ravens, who themselves were humiliated with an overtime loss against the Browns last week, were just better in all phases.
The Titans drove to the Baltimore 37 on their opening possession, but Marcus Mariota was sacked on back to back plays to push them out of field goal range. That was the deepest penetration Tennessee managed all day, and started a nightmare of a day for Mariota, who was sacked a career-high 11 times while completing just 10 passes, as the Titans were shutout for the first time since week 12 of the 2010 season when Riley Smith was at the helm of the offense in Houston.
Baltimore’s first possession started from its own six-yard line, but it didn’t matter. Joe Flacco directed the Ravens to a 17-play, 94-yard drive elapsing 9:09 and ending on a four-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. The Ravens converted all four of their third downs on that drive and finished the day 12-17 in that category.
The rest of the day was more of the same. The Titans couldn’t establish a running game and Mariota ran for his life with poor protection up front. Meanwhile, Flacco led the Ravens on two more touchdown drives, capped by Alex Collins runs, before John Harbaugh called off the dogs in the fourth quarter.
So the Titans are now 3-3 and still on top of the AFC South thanks to their 2-0 division record and the suddenly reeling Jaguars. But the Texans have now won three in a row to move into a virtual tie atop the standings and, most importantly, the Titans can not continue to play like this and expect to beat anybody.
Yes, the injuries are bad. The team’s best offensive player, Delanie Walker, is out for the year. It’s most proven wide receiver, Rishard Matthews, quit. It’s star tandem of tackles have been hampered by injuries all year, and Mariota still is experiencing numbness in his throwing hand from the nerve injury he suffered in week one. The defense is in bad shape as well with captain Wesley Woodyard missing a second straight game along with safety Kenny Vaccaro. Outside linebacker Derrick Morgan left Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.
That’s a lot to overcome, but the Titans did in the first month of the season, and will have to again if they don’t just want to write this year off.
The defense has been solid enough, ranking in the top 10 in the league coming into Sunday. But the inability to get a pass rush in the NFL will get you beat, and the Titans have just 13 sacks in six games.
Flacco was not sacked Sunday and, with all day to throw, specifically targeted Malcolm Butler with considerable success. The veteran cornerback signed a five-year, $61 million contract with the Titans in free agency despite being benched by New England in the Super Bowl. He was the star of training camp, but has graded out as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL through six weeks.
But the biggest concern has to come on the offensive side of the ball where the Titans were shutout for the first time since week 12 of the 2010 season. They’ve now gone eight full quarters without a touchdown, a streak that started one game after they broke a streak of 10 scoreless quarters in the overtime win over the Eagles. Right now, that looks like the aberration.
Most alarming is the fact that an offensive line once considered to be one of the best in the league now looks to be an average group at best. It’s hard to expect Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis to make much out of the blocking in front of them or to expect a young group of wide receivers to get open in the time they’re allowing Mariota to get throws off.
It’s not as bad as it looked Sunday. The Titans began the season 3-2 in five straight games decided by a single score before this beatdown. There will be better days ahead (it can’t get worse).
But this team has to get better. Soon. Or this season is going to get even more ugly fast.