CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Titans made too many mistakes by the lake, and they paid for it.
Penalties, fumbles and overall sloppy play contributed to a 28-14 loss to the Browns here at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Titans made things interesting late after digging themselves into a deep hole, but they couldn't get out.
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said he was proud of his team for battling back in the second half. During a 2-14 season a year ago, the Titans oftentimes lacked second-half spunk when falling behind early.
"I sense a difference with our team in the locker room after the game,'' Whisenhunt said. "Me sitting here and talking about it is not going to mean anything, it is going to be in how we show it next week in what we do. We have good men, good players, and they are hurting right now.
"After last week, we felt like (we were) on a big high. Well, this is a big low. That's the NFL. The big thing for us is how we come back next week."
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 21-of-37 passes for 252 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the contest. But he was sacked seven times, and fumbled three times, losing two of them.
The Titans (1-1) fell down 21-0 in this one before rallying late.
"You understand this is a tough league, and you can get beat any time,'' said Mariota, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the game, but finished the contest. "We understood that going in. I could have made a lot more accurate throws, and could have been better with the football, but I'll learn that and get better and get ready for next week."
The Titans didn't get on the board until the 1:36 mark of the third quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to tight end Anthony Fasano, which made it 21-7.
Mariota then connected with rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-six with 6:42 remaining to cut Cleveland's lead to 21-14. Green-Beckham went up high in the end zone to snag it, over Browns defensive back Joe Haden. It was the first catch of his career.
The Titans had a big chance late.
But instead of getting a stop on defense, they gave up a killer of a play late when Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel connected with receiver Travis Benjamin on a 50-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-seven play with 2:52 remaining. After eluding pressure, Manziel found Benjamin behind cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson. The score made it 28-14, and foiled Tennessee's chances of a late rally.
"They made a play, and we have to get better from something like that,'' Wreh-Wilson said. "We'd crawled back to get it in. But that one hurt."
Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo made an early surge toward Manziel at the start of the play, but the quarterback eluded him and found Benjamin downfield.
"You see it game after game with what he does,'' Orakpo said. "He hadn't done that the whole game, and that's what is so frustrating. He didn't do it – he couldn't do it the whole game. Then, the play he needed it, he was able to buy more time so he could throw the ball down the field. They made a play and scored. That is the unfortunate thing. We had him corralled in that pocket throughout the whole game. Take away two big plays – man, I wish we could have those back."
Titans tackle Taylor Lewan called the overall play of the offensive line "disgusting" following a game when Mariota was sacked seven times, and hit on many other occasions.
Other offensive linemen agreed.
"Overall, it was just bad football,'' guard Byron Bell said. "We have to clean things up. We had way too many penalties. What happened today was unacceptable, man. We have to give our quarterback confidence, and if he thinks he's going to get hit every time he touches the ball…
"I like Marcus. He is a good guy and he is playing hard. He is going to continue to get better and is going to do fine. What happened today is not all on Marcus. We have to do our jobs better to keep him up."
Dexter McCluster led the Titans in the running game with 10 carries for 98 yards.
Manziel finished the game 8-of-15 for 172 yards and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 133.9.
The Browns struck first on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Manziel to Benjamin, who got behind cornerback Coty Sensabaugh on a deep ball.
Following a fumble by Titans running back Terrace West, the Browns made it 14-0 just 8:34 into the contest on an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Isaiah Crowell.
It was a mistake-filled first quarter for the Titans, who racked up four penalties for 45 yards also lost two fumbles in the game's first 15 minutes. Mariota lost a fumble while being sacked on the final play of the quarter. The Titans were called for eight penalties for 80 yards by halftime, and finished with nine penalties for 85 yards.
The Browns made it 21-0 just before halftime in a 78-yard punt return by Benjamin, who weaved his way through the Titans coverage team on his way into the end zone.
Mariota completed 8-of-16 passes for 71 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half. He was sacked three times. His passer rating at the half was 62.2.
Mariota's final passer rating was 96.3
The Titans play their home opener at Nissan Stadium on next Sunday against the Colts.
"I really do think we showed something different than last year,'' McCluster said. "Last year when we were down, we couldn't find that fight to come back. I really think we have a special group of guys that are willing to fight for one another.
"We tried to rally back, but we just ran out of time."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 of the 2015 season at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)