NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Six thoughts after Sunday's 24-21 loss to the Raiders.
It's crazy to question Mariota's desire**
My Twitter timeline fills up with some pretty negative comments during losses, and Sunday was no different. This one jumped out to me, from a fan, about quarterback Marcus Mariota: "Mariota isn't driven to win, Jim. He's way too laid back. People are really sick of yearly mediocrity." My reply was: Not driven to win? Give me a break. During a 2-9 season, it's fair to question a lot of things about the team. I understand that. Doubting the desire of a Heisman Trophy winner who has exceeded expectations as a rookie, that's ridiculous. Mariota is as determined as any rookie I've been around in the 17 years I've covered the Titans. It's off base to even suggest he doesn't have the desire needed to win in the NFL.
Effort has been there
Effort should be a given in the National Football League every Sunday, but look around the league and it's easy to wonder about it on some days, especially in the back half of bad years, or when things aren't going well. In years past, the Titans have produced some real duds themselves (a 59-0 loss at New England and a 55-7 loss in Green Bay stand out). But there's no doubt the Titans have been playing with a lot of energy and effort under interim coach Mike Mularkey. Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said after Sunday's game the players are disappointed they haven't been able to reward Mularkey with another win of late. It's been clear in recent weeks the players have responded to Mularkey, and they want to win for him.
Players have to make plays**
The Titans lost in gut-wrenching fashion against the Raiders, and it came down to the end (and a controversial call). But it shouldn't have. The Raiders won, in part, because they made big plays when it mattered. The Titans didn't. Aside from Mariota's two interceptions (one was his fault, Kendall Wright to the blame for the other), cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson was in position to make plays on the ball on numerous occasions, and didn't. Linebacker David Bass dropped an INT in his hands. Cornerback Perrish Cox missed a tackle that led to an Oakland touchdown. Those are just three examples of ways the Titans continue to make it difficult on themselves.
The Titans have a playmaker in Avery Williamson
Week in and week out Williamson is a major contributor on defense. The inside linebacker, who played in all 71 defensive snaps in Sunday's game, had a team-high 11 tackles against the Raiders. He now has double-digit tackle totals in three of the last four games, including 16 against the Panthers. Williamson also had a sack of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Williamson hasn't been perfect, but he's emerged as a tone-setter on the defense in just his second NFL season.
Long drives a killer**
The defense has kept the team in a lot of games this season, and deserves a ton of credit. But Sunday wasn't a banner day, partly because of a few examples listed a few spots above here. One of the things that killed the Titans against Oakland was the defense's inability to get off the field. The Raiders put together scoring drives of 77, 90, 69 and the 90-yard drive at the end. Oakland managed to convert 8-of-15 (53 percent) third downs, including some critical conversions in big situations. The defense has had better days for sure.
Tre McBride provided a spark
McBride only got a chance to return one kickoff on Sunday, but he was aggressive in coming out of the end zone for a 31-yard gain. McBride also forced a fumble on the kickoff coverage team that was recovered by safety Daimion Stafford. A seventh round pick out of William & Mary, McBride lost containment as a gunner on at least one punt return, but he was regularly one of the first players downfield on the coverage teams while playing with hustle. He earned more chances moving ahead.