NASHVILLE, Tenn. —** The Titans earned rave reviews after an easy win in preseason game No.1.
On Saturday, they received reminders of ways they still need to improve against the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
It was hardly a lost cause, however.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota stayed hot in the preseason, and the defense settled down after a sloppy start in an eventual 26-16 loss to the Panthers at Nissan Stadium.
"Disappointed obviously in the loss,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "We wanted to come back and put back-to-back clean games together and failed to do so. I told some teams there are some positives that are going to come out of this.
"But there's a lot of things we can get better off the tape from this game."
First, the good news: Mariota completed 9-of-10 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, he's now completed 14-of-15 passes for 149 yards in two games in the preseason. His completion percentage is 93.3, and his passer rating is 102.5.
"Not bad,'' Mariota said when asked about his start. He blamed himself for being greedy in the early INT.
For the second week in a row, however, the Titans were sloppy early on defense. And the Titans also committed a pair of turnovers – one near Carolina's end zone, and once near their own end zone.
On their opening drive, the Panthers drove the ball 93 yards on just five plays, and capped it off with a 61-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cam Newton to receiver Ted Ginn to make in 7-0. On the play, Ginn escaped a tackle from Titans cornerback Antwon Blake, and then maneuvered past safety Da'Norris Searcy en route to the end zone.
The Titans also allowed a touchdown on San Diego's opening drive last week.
"We take pride in trying to make sure we make stops and put our offense in the best situation,'' defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "To put them behind like the start of the game was very unacceptable for us as a defense.
"We pride ourselves on trying to be the No.1 defense in the league and to be that we can't allow things like that to happen."
Added linebacker Brian Orakpo: "Another situation where our defense did well, but we have to find a way to finish the plays. On a couple missed tackles, (Ted) Ginn (Jr.) was able to go to the house. Once again, we started slow, but I really liked how we handled it. We came back and were able to start getting off the field."
The Titans responded with a nice drive of their own, but Mariota was intercepted as the team was driving. The Panthers then moved ahead 10-0 on a 41-yard field goal by kicker Graham Gano.
But after a shaky start, the Titans responded, and offered more reasons for optimism a week after rushing for 288 yards in a win over the San Diego Chargers.
Mariota drove the team down the field and capped off an 81-yard drive with a beautiful 23-yard completion to receiver Harry Douglas in the corner of the end zone to make it 10-7. Mariota competed three passes to rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe on the drive, which also included a 13-yard run by DeMarco Murray.
"I'd say we're doing a great job of playing as one, and playing as a group,'' Douglas said. "It takes all 11 guys for us to be successful, so we have all 11 buying into the system and want to great for one another. Nothing but success can come out of it.
"It was a great job by everybody (on the touchdown). Great throw by Marcus. Great job by the o-line. Great job by Andre (Johnson). I think a couple guys went with him, they left me wide open, and all I had to do was complete the catch."
Veteran Matt Cassel replaced Mariota on the next series, and Alex Tanney entered the game in the third quarter.
Sharpe continued to impress. He led the team with six catches for 68 yards in the first half.
The Panthers led 13-7 at the half after Gano made a 13-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the half. The Titans cut the lead to 13-10 early in the third quarter on a 48-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. Late in the third, running back David Cobb fumbled, and the Panthers cashed it in for a quick score to stretch the lead to 19-10.
In the fourth quarter, following a weather delay, the Panthers stretched the lead to 26-10 on a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Webb to running back Jalen Simmons.
Late in the fourth quarter, Tanney connected with tight end Alex Ellis for a nine-yard touchdown to make it 26-16.
"It will definitely be one of my top football memories ever,'' Ellis said. "I am just thankful I got the call."
The Titans face the Raiders in preseason game No.3 next week.
The Tennessee Titans battle the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the 2016 preseason at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)