NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought they had picked up a first down only to be told it was fourth-and-inches.
After what happened on their final play, the Bucs really wish officials had measured to see how much they needed.
Josh Freeman fumbled the snap, recovered and only managed to get back near the line of scrimmage with 40 seconds left. Officials ruled Tampa Bay had turned the ball over on downs, and the Titans ran out the clock for a 23-17 victory Sunday over the Bucs.
Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris asked for a measurement but was denied.
"You shouldn't have to ask,'' Morris said. "It is what it is. When you do ask they tell you they don't have to give it to you. They just give it to you automatically (in) third downs and critical situations.''
Freeman had just connected with LeGarrette Blount on a 9-yard pass play down to the Tennessee 25. Freeman said he first thought they had picked up the first down and was preparing to spike the ball only to be told it was fourth-and-inches.
"So I'm like,
Shouldn't it be measured?''' Freeman said. "The ref was like,Play it,' so I tried to call a sneak. Enough time had already run off the clock. I was just trying to get a first down. They didn't have a chance to dry the ball off or anything so it was just a mess.''
Chris Johnson ran for 190 yards, and Matt Hasselbeck threw the go-ahead touchdown to Damian Williams on fourth down with 3:01 left.
The Titans (6-5) forced five turnovers and overcame four turnovers of their own on a cold and rainy day. The Bucs outscored them 14-3 off mistakes even though Tennessee got the ball three times on Tampa Bay's side of the field.
But the Titans got the ninth and final turnover of the game when rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy intercepted Freeman with 2:19 left.
The Bucs (4-7) lost their fifth straight even with LeGarrette Blount running for 103 yards, though he also had two fumbles.
"No excuses and no explanations,'' Morris said. "We've got to stop the run better at the end and we can't turn the football over. The weather and none of that stuff is an excuse.''
Freeman threw for 199 yards and a touchdown, but he had an interception and lost a fumble.
Tommie Campbell took a reverse from Marc Mariani and ran 84 yards for a kickoff return, Dave Ball had two sacks, and Rob Bironas kicked field goals of 31, 52 and 38 yards as the Titans keep chasing the Houston Texans (8-3) in the AFC South and hanging around the playoff picture.
Johnson ran for 44 yards, including a season-long 34-yarder, as Tennessee drove 80 yards to go ahead.
But the Titans had to go for it on fourth down, and Hasselbeck rolled right before finding Williams at the back of the end zone for a 20-17 lead. He finished 19 of 34 for 160 yards and two interceptions.
Hasselbeck credited Williams for staying alive at the back of the end line.
"We knew that this was a do-or-die situation, a critical situation,'' Hasselbeck said. "Someone needed to come up and make a play, make a clutch play. We needed this to win the game, and Damian came through and did a great job.''
Tampa Bay had been giving up 133.5 yards rushing per game. Johnson shredded the Bucs at times after being booed heavily most of this season after signing a $53.5 million extension.
"I just knew if we were able to execute ourselves we could have a pretty good day,'' Johnson said.
The Bucs tied it up at 10-all just before halftime off Tennessee's second turnover. Javon Ringer fumbled after a short pass from Hasselbeck with the ball popping straight to Bucs safety Tanard Jackson, and he took it 13 yards to the Tennessee 13. Freeman needed only 46 seconds before tossing a 3-yard pass to Mike Williams to tie it up.
It only got worse in the third quarter when the teams had four turnovers combined.
Johnson opened the half running well only to be stripped on his third carry after 13 yards by Aqib Talib. The Bucs had the ball all of three plays before Titans safety Jordan Babineaux stripped it from receiver Mike Williams after a catch. Talib picked off Hasselbeck and ran it back 27 yards for the TD and a 17-10 lead with 12:04 left in the third.
Blount had his second fumble after a short pass from Freeman when Titans rookie tackle Jurrell Casey stripped him of the ball and recovered at the Bucs 29. The Titans got nothing from the turnover. Adrian Clayborn sacked Hasselbeck, and the Titans went three-and-out.
"There's nothing anybody could do besides hold on to the ball tight,'' Blount said of the slippery conditions