For a brief moment late in the fourth quarter Sunday the sun broke through the clouds at Nissan Stadium, a glimmer of hope in what has otherwise been a gloomy December for the Titans. But the rain returned a short time later as Marcus Mariota's fourth down pass fell incomplete and the final seconds ticked off of a 27-23 loss to the Rams.
It was Tennessee's third straight loss after it started the season 8-4, and sets up a win or go home scenario in week 17 against division rival Jacksonville. The loss also means the Jaguars clinched the AFC South title Sunday despite losing to the 49ers.
For the second straight week the Titans took the lead in the fourth quarter, this time when Ryan Succop's 27-yard field goal capped a 9-play, 64-yard drive :14 into the final frame.
But just like they did on two occasions last week in San Francisco, the Titans defense failed to protect the lead. Jared Goff and the Rams answering with a six-play, 68-yard drive capped by the second-year quarterback's fourth touchdown pass of the day, a 14-yard strike to Cooper Kupp that proved to be the game-winner.
The Titans' three straight losses have come by a combined total of 11 points. It's a stunning reversal of fortune for a team that had made a name for itself by winning close games. The Titans finished last season winning four of their final five games with each triumph coming by a touchdown or less. They then started this season 5-1 in one score games on the way to an 8-4 record and a spot atop the AFC South standings.
But then came this stretch of three straight games against teams from the NFC West and the Titans have seemingly lost their magic. First came a 12-7 loss to the Cardinals in which the defense didn't allow a touchdown, but Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions and the offense never got going. Then came a last second loss to the 49ers in which the defense failed to protect the lead after Mariota and company gave them a 23-22 advantage with just 1:07 left.
And then Sunday's result against the division champion Rams. A game that included another Mariota interception, a goalline snaffu by the offense and the defense failing to protect another fourth quarter lead.
But the frustration doesn't stop there. The Titans had significant gripes with the officiating after the game and the complaints appear warranted. The Rams benefited from multiple no calls, including a pair of potential roughing the punter penalties that went unflagged.
The most costly, and controversial, plays came late in the third quarter, however.
As Los Angeles lined up to go for it on fourth and one at the Tennessee 13, tight end Tyler Higbee appeared to flinch, drawing the attention of several Tennessee defenders, but not a single official. Instead of being backed up into a field goal attempt, Todd Gurley gained 10 of his 118 yards on the play to pick up a first down, and Goff hit Sammy Watkins for a go-ahead TD on the next play.
After DeMarco Murray's six-yard touchdown run tied the game at 20, the Titans appeared to catch the Rams asleep with a quick onside kick before their return unit was able to take the field. But the officials first threw a flag on the play and then said the Rams called a timeout before ruling that the play hadn't officially been whistled live. The explanation clearly angered Titans coach Mike Mularkey and forced the Titans to re-kick, deep, to a prepared Rams team.
Not all the mistakes in this three game spiral have been of the Titans' doing, but the bottom line is they aren't playing well enough to win. At one point this season, they were finding ways to win despite playing ugly. But that inconsistent play is catching up with them at the most critical juncture of the year.
And now it all comes down to one game. Beat the Jaguars next Sunday and many of these woes will be overlooked as the Titans head to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Lose and the four-game collapse will almost certainly be complete.
A 16 game season has been boiled down to one week, and all the pressure is on the Titans. They better find a way to regroup and come out and get a victory next Sunday.
Otherwise, it will be a very long, dark offseason.