NASHVILLE – The Titans lost to the Buffalo Bills 14-7 on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the game as the team begins to turn its attention to the Denver Broncos.
It's Not All Mariota's Fault
It seems like after every loss these days most of the fingers on social media – and in my twice-a-week mailbag – are pointing directly at quarterback Marcus Mariota. Give it a rest. The Titans didn't lose on Sunday because of Mariota. Could the team's starting quarterback have played better? Sure. But once again his protection was bad, his targets dropped passes, touchdown plays were called back because of penalties, and the team's kicker missed four field goals. Some will call me a Mariota homer for this take. I'm not ignoring the fact he needs to play better. But once again, he's far from the only one.
Shaky Pass Protection
And this leads me to the fact Mariota was sacked five more times on Sunday, and he's now been sacked 22 times on the season. The pocket collapsed quickly on several plays, and Mariota was sacked. Other times he had to throw the football away. I think veteran guard Rodger Saffold would acknowledge he needs to clean some things up, but he's not the lone ranger here either. Returning left tackle Taylor Lewan pinned Sunday's loss on the o-line. Again, there was plenty of blame to go around, but there's no doubt the Titans need better play up front.
Sunday's game reminded me a lot of a game from roughly 20 years ago – a game vs. the Baltimore Ravens during the 2000 season's playoffs. Titans kicker Al Del Greco had a bad day in a Tennessee loss, just as kicker Cairo Santos did on Sunday. The Titans defense gave the offense a chance to win it, but there were too many missed opportunities. I hate to bring up one of the most painful memories in team history, but as I watched that game unfold on Sunday, I had a flashback to January 7, 2001. Am I the only one?
Defense Did Its Part, Except …
The Titans have allowed just 76 points in five games this season, an average of 15 points per game. Look at the AFC South and defenses from the Texans (110 PA), Colts (115) and Jaguars (118) haven't come close to being that air-tight. On yet another Sunday, Tennessee's defense played well enough for the team to win, tallying four sacks and allowing just 313 yards of offense for Buffalo. But I can't sit here and ignore a few of their sins. Yet again, the defense allowed a big play to set up a big score – a 46-yard push pass to Isaiah McKenzie – and the defense couldn't stop Buffalo's running game in the final five minutes, which kept them from getting the ball back.
Titans safety Kevin Byard provided a big spark with an interception, which set up Tennessee's only touchdown on a short field, and he later made a big break up on third and 6 to help the Titans get the ball back on the following possession. Byard finished the contest with five tackles and two passes defensed, and he was part of a defense that held the Bills to just 4-of-13 on third downs on Sunday.
I started out this six-pack listing why Mariota shouldn't be pinned with all the blame. I'm closing it out here with a laundry list of missed opportunities for the Titans, starting with the dreadful 0-for-4 day from Santos. This came on a day when the Titans had two touchdowns called back because of penalties (one of Jack Conklin for holding, one of Mariota for an illegal pass), plus a tone-setting play right out of the gate on a blatant hold from Lewan, who was lucky he didn't get flagged for a roughness penalty at the end of the play, too. I counted a pair of drops from Dion Lewis, and one from Walker, that killed drives. Of course head coach Mike Vrabel's decision to try a 53-yard rather than going for it stood out, but I'll leave that for others to debate.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 of the 2019 season at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)