Glennon's Take: Titans' Divisional Dreams Suffer a Blow

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** The Titans will wake up Monday to the harsh reality that the team's biggest primary goal this season – winning the AFC South – is no longer completely in its control.

That was the biggest disappointment to come out of Sunday's 25-23 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

A Tennessee team that headed west two weekends ago with an 8-4 record will return home Sunday night after losing a pair of games by a total of seven points.

It's still possible to capture the division, of course, but now the Titans now need to win their last two games – at home against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville – and have the Jaguars lose to San Francisco as well.

The good news is there's still a quality "Plan B" option: Should the Titans win last their last two games, they'll still have a strong shot at making the postseason – whether it's as division champion or not.

And as angry as most Titans fans are now following losses to the Cardinals and 49ers, making the playoffs would still have to be considered a step in the right direction for the franchise, considering Tennessee hasn't seen the postseason since 2008.

The big question that must be answered, though, is whether the Titans can finish strong after weaknesses were exposed in back-to-back losses.

In the Titans' defeat at the hands of Arizona two Sundays ago, it was the offense that was lacking. In the Titan's loss to the 49ers, it was more the defense that didn't get the job done consistently enough.

The Titans' defense entered the San Francisco contest on a real roll, having piled up 20 quarterbacks sacks over the last three games and having held three straight opponents under 17 points.

But as well as the defense has played for much of the season, it's still struggled against some of the better passing attacks the Titans have seen. Seattle's Russell Wilson threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns against the Titans; Houston's DeShaun Watson for 283 yards and four touchdowns; Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger 299 yards and four touchdowns; and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo 381 yards and a touchdown.

The Titans' defense did a solid job keeping San Francisco out of the end zone – holding the 49ers to that lone touchdown and six field goals. But a Titans defense that had entered the game best in the league at defending big plays gave up three back-breakers. The first was a 54-yard reception to Kendrick Bourne, the second a 41-yard reception to Garrett Celek and the last a 24-yard reception to George Kittle that that set up the game-winning field goal.

In addition, the Titans needed to get off the field earlier than they did on many drives. Tennessee forced just one punt, allowing the 49ers to convert seven-of-14 third-down attempts.

"It was really good (to keep them out of the end zone), but if we can hold them to punting, it would even be better," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "You'd like to get some drives where they're stopped in their territory. We needed to get some punts more than than field goals (allowed). That would be a difference in the game, too."

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Titans' offense looked far better overall than they did in the loss to Arizona. At least part of the reason was the no-huddle look, which the Titans used to put up 17 points on three successive drives.

"I thought we were very efficient," Mariota said of the no-huddle drives. "It's a package that we practice every single day. Guys trust it and I thought we did a good job of being able to execute."

Mariota, who'd thrown 10 interceptions in the previous six weeks, didn't suffer a turnover against the 49ers. He also connected on a pair of touchdown passes, the first time he'd done so since the win over Baltimore on Nov. 5.

Still, it's an offense that came up short on a critical drive.

Needing a first down on third-and-two from the San Francisco 32 with 1:20 left in the contest, a Titans offense that prides itself on a physical, smashmouth style was stuffed for no gain on a run play. Mularkey said one reason the Titans didn't pass was they couldn't afford a sack in that situation. Mariota, meanwhile, said he should have checked to a pass in hindsight.

"I thought we could cram it in there," Mariota said. "Looking back on it … (the 49ers) lowered the box. I thought we could fit it in there for two yards. That's something I wish I could have back."

The bottom line is the Titans now find themselves with a formidable challenge over the last couple of weekends.

They'll first face a 10-4 Rams team that's topped the 30-point mark in nine of its 14 games this season, including Sunday's 42-7 thumping of Seattle. Next after that is a Jacksonville team that has won seven of its last eight games and features one of the NFL's best defenses.

All wasn't lost for the Titans in Sunday's loss to the 49ers.

But the path to the postseason is decidedly more difficult.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

The Tennessee Titans take on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 at Levi's Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)

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