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Glennon's Take: Frustrating Finish, But Positive Steps in 2017



NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Two-touchdown underdogs heading into Saturday's contest, the Titans needed to play the perfect game in order to beat the defending Super Bowl champions.

In the end, that was just too much to ask.

The Titans didn't have enough defensive answers for Pats quarterback Tom Brady, who – for the most part – dinked and dunked them to death with short throws to running backs and possession receivers.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans' offense didn't have enough early punch, outside of an impressive 95-yard drive in the first quarter that was capped by Corey Davis' tremendous one-handed touchdown catch.

When the Titans review their performance, they'll be most disappointed they didn't take advantage of some of their strengths – things that might have helped spring an upset for the ages.

The Titans, for instance, were a top-10 team this season in terms of both third-down defense and red-zone defense. Getting off the field on a consistent basis against Brady – and holding the Patriots to field goals instead of touchdowns – were two things the Titans needed to make happen.

But Brady bettered the Titans in both departments, helped by an offensive line that didn't surrender a sack.

New England strung together one first down after another, converting 11-of-17 third down chances and winding up with almost five more minutes of possession time. When the Patriots got close to the end zone, they were ruthless, converting five-of-five chances.

"That's their passing game," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "It's a quick passing game. Get the ball out of his hands. We were close a couple times (to Brady), but we just couldn't get off the field."

The Titans also entered Saturday's game as the second-least penalized team in the league, one that twice in the last month had committed just two penalties.

But the Titans hurt their cause in that department as well, flagged 10 times for 62 yards. Too many times, the Titans faced long yardage on early downs, which allowed the Patriots to ramp up the pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"I said it all week – you can't make mistakes against a really good team," Mularkey said. "They're waiting on you to do it and we did. We acconmodated them with a lot of mistakes."

So now we're left with how to evaluate a Titans season that ended with the 35-14 loss in the AFC's Divisional round.

As disappointing as the final outcome was on Saturday, it's still important to keep in mind the big picture, the fact that the Titans did make progress this season. They recorded the franchise's first back-to-back winning records since 2007 and 2008, advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and earned their first postseason victory since 2004.

This team was in disastrous shape just a couple of years ago, having won just five of their previous 32 games going into the 2016 season.

That said, the Titans still have their share of questions to address during the offseason.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Titans need to discover why there was slippage in both the running and passing game from one year ago.

The fact that Mariota spent much of his offseason re-habbing from leg surgery no doubt hurt the passing attack, as did Davis' long injury absences during training camp and the regular season.

Overall, Mariota and his group of new receivers – which included Davis, Eric Decker and Taywan Taylor – didn't quite click the way the Titans had hoped.

What's promising, of course, is that Davis produced the most impactful game of his rookie season against the Patriots. His one-handed grab was a thing of beauty, and he added a second score – producing his first two NFL touchdowns – in the closing moments.

"He played well, made a bunch of big plays," Mariota said of Davis. "That first touchdown was an unbelievable catch. That's what we expect out of him. He has that ability to make those plays game in and game out."

Defensively, the Titans were every bit as strong against the run this season as they were the previous year.

It's the pass defense that remains a work in progress, evidenced by Brady's 337 aerial yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's contest. The Titans do have a few long-term cornerstones in place in safety Kevin Byard, cornerback Adoree Jackson and cornerback Logan Ryan, however, so there's reason to believe things will improve in that regard.

It's fair to grind your teeth in disappointment for the rest of the weekend if you're a Titans fans.

The end of the season is always hard, especially so when it comes in a three-touchdown loss.

But when the frustration fades, understand that crafting a consistently winning team doesn't happen overnight.

The Titans took some more steps in the right direction this year. Construction begins for 2018 starting now.

-- Reach John Glennon at and follow him @glennonsports.

The Tennessee Titans take on the New England Patriots in an AFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 at Gillette Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)

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