INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Titans lost to the Chargers 17-14 on Sunday here at SoFi Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out …
Heads Up Play
I've seen a lot of football over the years. The play defensive backs Roger McCreary and Joshua Kalu combined to make at the end of the first half on Sunday ranks among the best defensive plays I've ever witnessed. With Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert trying to connect with receiver Mike Williams in the end zone, a quick-thinking McCreary caught the ball as his momentum was carrying him out of bounds, and he then alertly tossed it to Kalu, who managed to get both feet inbounds for an interception, and a touchback. "That play, I always wanted to do something like that," McCreary said with a smile. "I knew I wasn't going to catch it inbounds, but I saw my partner Kalu over there. I passed it to him, and it worked out good." For Kalu, it was his first career interception. "It was a genius play – something you see on Madden or something like that," said Kalu, tipping his cap to McCreary. "I was so happy with my first pick, I forgot to celebrate with him, but I came back to tell him how genius it was. I get the ball, but I'm going to give him all the credit."
In his 100th career regular-season game, Titans running back Derrick Henry played a starring role just down the road from Hollywood. Henry ran for 104 yards and one touchdown on 21 attempts (5.0 avg.), and he also tied for the team lead with four receptions while leading the team with 59 receiving yards. In the contest, Henry surpassed 8,000 career rushing yards (8,100). He became the seventh player in NFL history to record 8,000 rushing yards and 75 rushing touchdowns (77) within his first 100 NFL games, joining Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson. Henry, however, left SoFi Stadium dejected. "It's tough," Henry said. "It's been tough the last couple of weeks. We fought to the end, but we came up short."
When Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill left the sideline on a cart in the first quarter, I doubt too many observers expected to see him back on the field on Sunday. Tannehill, after all, had suffered a right ankle injury that initially looked pretty serious. But Tannehill not only returned to the sideline – he returned to action. After the game, Tannehill explained the reason he took the cart was more about the distance he had to travel to the locker room for x-rays. Still, he was dealing with a lot of pain. "They did some initial checks, and told me it looked OK," Tannehill said of the ankle. "I was in a lot of pain, but I was able to get back out there and play. … The crazy, intense pain calmed down after a little bit of time, and I was able to come back in." Titans center Ben Jones said it didn't surprise him that Tannehill came back. "I love the guy to death," Jones said. "He's one of the guys you'll talk about when you are done playing, how tough of a guy he is."
One of the reasons the Titans couldn't sustain more success on offense centered on the team's inability to protect Tannehill on a regular basis. Tannehill was hit entirely too many times in the game, from all angles. The Chargers were credited with five quarterback hits, and four sacks. The sacks – and lost yardage – resulted in long down and distance situations for the Titans, and they were drive killers. Titans coach Mike Vrabel once again praised Tannehill for his toughness, while stressing he was hit entirely too often. "I've told you about Ryan's toughness, and what I think about that," Vrabel said. "He can't hit as many times as he does, or how he gets hit. Nothing good happens in this league when your quarterback gets hit. But I'm never going to question his toughness, or his willingness to go in there and help the team."
Defense Making Plays
The Titans looked more like the Titans on defense on Sunday, pressuring the quarterback while also forcing two turnovers. Defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker recorded two sacks in the game, and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons also tallied a sack. Safety Kevin Byard intercepted Herbert, and we previously discussed the great play McCreary and Kalu combined to make at the end of the first half. "We have to correct the bad, and use the good as momentum heading into Saturday," Walker said. "This is the best team I've been on since I've been in the NFL. So, we have to pull together and do more." In the locker room, Byard was clearly frustrated after the game, lamenting the late drive the Chargers put together to kick the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds. He vowed to continue pushing those around him. "It was good to get some turnovers, and some sacks," Byard said. "We played better as a defense for sure. But it came down to the last minute, and we practice those two-minute drills all the time. So it's disappointing we weren't to be successful in that situation."
It's Getting Tight
It wasn't too long ago when the Titans had a commanding lead in the AFC South, with the Colts viewed as their chief competition. Things have changed. With four consecutive losses, the Titans are now back to .500 at 7-7. And, the Jaguars are now on their tails. Jacksonville's overtime win over the Cowboys on Sunday improved their record to 6-8, and they're now just one game behind the Titans in the AFC South with three games to play. The Titans have the Texans and Cowboys coming up on the schedule, with a Week 18 game at Jacksonville looming. "I think (the mindset) is urgency," Henry said. "We don't want to keep letting this happen. We have to find a way to win a game. We have to come back in and get back to work, that's all you can do. It's getting close, so we have to find a way to win a game and put it together."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15 at SoFi Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15 at SoFi Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans arrive at SoFi Stadium for their Week 15 Game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Tennessee Titans travel to Los Angeles for their Week 15 game at SoFi Stadium. (Tennessee Titans)