CHARLOTTE – In a city known for car racing, the Titans were slow at the start.
By the time they got revved up, it was too late.
A game filled with backfires and a sputtering engine ended with a flat – and a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
"It hurts, especially how it went down," Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We didn't execute, we didn't play well in the first half and we kept shooting ourselves in the foot, and when you do that it is tough to swallow.
"When you come out and play clean football and you get beat, losing is always tough. But whenever you shoot yourselves in the foot, it hurts a lot worse."
It wasn't the start to the second half of the season anyone had in mind, as the Titans dropped to 4-5.
It killed the mood, and a two-game winning streak.
With seven games remaining, the Titans find themselves in catch-up mode in the AFC South, and in the race for a playoff spot. The Texans (6-3) now lead the division, with the Colts (5-3) right behind them.
Sunday's performance was yet another reminder the team needs to improve if things are going to be interesting in December.
"We need to find a way to get on a run. We need to find a way to play well for four quarters in all three phases of the game, and we haven't done that yet," safety Kevin Byard said. "We have to figure out how to get this thing turned around. We have to play better."
Tannehill completed 27-of-39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown, and he also ran for a score. But he was sacked four times and intercepted twice on a day with the Titans made things tough on themselves with mistakes.
The Titans committed 11 penalties for 99 yards in the game, which killed momentum and field position. There were dropped passes, and missed field goals. The team also got burned on a fake punt.
Running back Derrick Henry ran for 63 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, but he was quiet – and not utilized much – in the first half.
Trailing 17-0 at the half, the Titans scored on an eight-yard run by Henry on their first possession of the second half to cut the lead to 17-7. Henry carried the ball seven times on the drive after getting just two carries in the first half.
After the Panthers answered back with a one-yard run by Christian McCaffrey to make it 24-7, the Titans responded again, this time with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Henry, which made it 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
But it was too little, too late, as the Panthers took control of the game again on a 58-yard run by McCaffrey to make it 30-14.
A 10-yard touchdown run by Tannehill with 2:49 left made it 30-20, but kicker Ryan Succop missed his third field goal of the game in the closing minute, which killed any chances of a miracle rally.
"I had a good week of practice, and felt like things were really progressing nicely," said Succop, who was added to the roster on Saturday. "I obviously just didn't get it done today and that's tough – that's on me."
The first quarter ended with a scoreless tie, but not without some Titans mistakes.
It was a sign of things to come.
Succop was wide left on a 43-yard field goal on the team's first possession, and the Titans were flagged for three penalties on the offensive line (two on left tackle Taylor Lewan, one on right guard Nate Davis) to derail the team's second possession. A fumble by running back Dion Lewis ended the team's third possession in the second quarter, and the Titans would begin falling into a hole.
"Negative plays can't happen," Lewan said. "I take full responsibility. We have to be better, and I have to be better. … Our defense played their (butts) off for us, and as an offense we have to figure out a way to get started faster. I know it is redundant, and I know it is annoying to hear. If I was a fan I'd be frustrated, too. As a player I am frustrated and I need to find out a way to be better."
Titans outside linebacker Harold Landry intercepted Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen to end one Carolina possession, but the Panthers took a 3-0 lead in the second quarter on a 35-yard field goal by kicker Joey Slye.
The Panthers extended their lead to 10-0 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Allen to McCaffrey on a fourth-and-two play. The score was set up by an interception thrown by Tannehill that went off the hands of Titans receiver A.J. Brown.
The Panthers stretched their lead to 17-0 at the half on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Curtis Samuel, with cornerback Malcolm Butler defending on the play. Butler was injured when he landed and did not return.
Succop was short on a 56-yard field goal at the end of the first half, and the Titans trailed 17-0.
While the Titans showed more signs of life in the second half of Sunday's game, it didn't change the end result.
McCaffrey ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns, while Allen threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers.
The Titans face the Chiefs next Sunday at Nissan Stadium
"Every game is critical, and that's why we're going to get back to work and understand that we put ourselves in position to play meaningful games in November," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "Unfortunately today we didn't take the step that we needed to. But there's a lot of good things that showed up there in the second half that we have to try and build on."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 9 of the 2019 season at Bank of America Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)