There are no moral victories in the NFL, only wins and losses. After the Titans' latest setback Sunday in Houston, players and coaches insisted progress has been made.
Make no mistake, the Titans entered Sunday looking for a win that would've put them in a tie atop the AFC South standings. But after another lesson in winning football, they leave the Lonestar State determined to prove they're better than their 1-3 record indicates.
"We're capable of winning these games," Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said. "We're losing them with just a handful of plays."
It would help if they could get off to a faster start. For the third straight week, the Titans trailed by double digits after surrendering 17 points on the Texans first three possessions.
"Put that on us," outside linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We gave up touchdowns on their first two drives and that's unacceptable."
Tennessee showed plenty of fight, clawing back to tie the game on two different occasions. DeMarco Murray's two touchdown runs tied the game before half, and a 13-play field goal drive to start the second half knotted the game at 20.
It seemed like the Titans had actually grabbed the momentum when Perrish Cox ended the ensuing Texans drive with an interception, but the offense went three and out and Will Fuller's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown gave Houston the lead for good.
"We tried to take a shot and we took a sack," Mularkey said. "The sack, and then we had a penalty, swung the momentum."
Once again the Titans had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to tie or win the game and, much like last week against Oakland, watched a fourth down pass to keep the game alive fall incomplete when Andre Johnson stumbled out of his break on a route and Marcus Mariota's pass sailed high off his fingertips.
Still despite the loss, the Titans believe they've proven that they aren't the same team that won just five games the past two years, finishing last in the AFC South.
"We're definitely improving," cornerback Jason McCourty said. "We've found our identity and know what we want to be. We just have to find a way to win these close games."
What the Titans have found is a workhorse back in Murray, who rushed for 95 yards, and a stingy defense that clamped down after its early struggles, allowing just one field goal the rest of the way.
"They got a lot of heart," Mularkey said. "I don't think anybody really knows who this team is. This is a good football team that's making enough mistakes not to get over the hump."
The Titans are good enough to be competitive each and every week now, but turnovers, penalties and missed opportunities have been their undoing in the early season. That will have to change if they're going to turn things around.
A 1-3 start to the year wasn't what this new look team was hoping for, but with three quarters of the season remaining they feel there's still plenty of time to break through in these close games and become a factor in the division and playoff race.
"There's no time to panic," Murray said. "We know what we're doing wrong. No one's pouting or is going to go in the tank. We just have to keep working and getting better."