NASHVILLE – The Titans lost to the Bengals 19-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the contest:
I covered the playoff losses in 2000 and 2008, when the Titans entered the postseason as the No.1 seed only to see those seasons, and dreams, come up short because of mistakes, and missed opportunities. Saturday's loss to the Bengals had a similar feel, and outcome. Three interceptions thrown by quarterback Ryan Tannehill doomed the Titans, but on this day, he wasn't the Lone Ranger when it came to costly mistakes. Yes, Tannehill's mistakes proved the most costly, but these Titans had other opportunities and failed, from dropped passes to a failed 4th and 1 run to a 1-of-8 performance on 3rd down to untimely lapses in coverage on defense. And that's why we're talking about another season that ended way too soon.
Hellish Pass Rush
What the Titans did here – sacking Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow nine times – was incredible really. And it's hard to believe the Titans couldn't use the performance to get a win. The nine sacks was a postseason record for the Titans, and it also tied an NFL postseason record. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons had three sacks, while Harold Landry and Denico Autry added 1.5 each. David Long and Bud Dupree also added sacks, and Naquan Jones and Kyle Peko added a half-sack each. As I watched the game unfold, I thought to myself: This defense is good enough to help the Titans win a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, it won't get the chance.
I mentioned Tannehill in the intro, and I'm going to touch on him again here because his turnovers really doomed this Titans team. Over the past few years, I've sometimes felt like Tannehill gets a bad rap from the national media. He's been good enough to help the Titans win a lot of games over the years, with some gutsy performances. But there's no denying he played a major role in the team coming up short on Saturday, with interceptions on his first throw of the game, and his last throw of the game. Tannehill looked dejected in his post-game postgame press conference, and there's no doubt this one is going to bother him for a while. As the Titans head into the offseason, I can't help but think Tannehill is now going to need to do a lot more to change the national narrative surrounding him.
Titans receiver A.J. Brown did his best to will the Titans to a win, with a big performance in the clutch. Brown's 33-yard touchdown catch late tied the game at 16-16, and it set the Nissan Stadium crowd into a frenzy. Brown finished the game with five catches for 142 yards and the score, and his 41-yard catch also set up points for the Titans. I thought receiver Julio Jones also contributed well with some big catches in the contest for the Titans. But this tandem, despite tallying 204 yards between them, didn't get enough help from others.
King Henry and D'Onta Foreman
Derrick Henry's return to the lineup was a perfect movie script. After breaking his foot in the team's October 31 win at Indianapolis, Henry busted it to get back for the playoffs. And when he was announced at Nissan Stadium prior to Saturday's game, the place was electric. Henry's story didn't have a storybook ending, however, as he was held to just 62 yards on 20 carries on a day when the Titans saw their 2021 season come to an end. Props to Henry, who scored on a three-yard touchdown run, for putting himself in a position to do his part. The fact all his work ended with a one-and-done in the playoffs was tough to take for Henry, and the Titans. And let's not forget about D'Onta Foreman's contribution to this season, and game – Foreman tallied 66 yards on just four carries on Saturday to close out a productive season when he really stepped up when the team needed him.
It was a heck of a regular season for these Titans, who won 12 games and showed great guts along the way. An NFL-record 91 players played for the Titans in 2021, who won games in dramatic fashion, and beat a lot of good teams. These Titans became just the third team in franchise history to earn the No.1 seed, putting themselves in a great spot to make a run to the Super Bowl. As I type this final line, the lights now off at Nissan Stadium, it's hard to believe this season is over. I, too, had a good feeling about this team. But it's over now, and next year's squad will look different. Here's hoping the ending will look different as well.