The energy was on another level as the Tennessee Titans opened the playoffs taking on the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL’s AFC Divisional Playoff round. The expectation for many Titans fans is the Titans would win this game and then move on to the next round. Three hours later, the collective groan you heard from Nissan Stadium was the disappointment of the Titans losing at home to the Bengals, 19-16, before a packed house. So, how did this happen? That answer is a complicated one.
One thing that can easily be pointed to is points left off the board. The Titans decided to go for two earlier in the game when they got a penalty that moved the ball to the one-yard line. That decision from head coach Mike Vrabel cost them one point. Of course, that would have brought them to lose by two points instead of three, so there isn’t much difference that would have made in this one.
A few decisions offensively though, mainly by the offensive coordinator of the Titans, Todd Downing, left a lot to be desired. The first mistake some would say is opening the game passing the football. The result of that first play was an interception on the first offensive play of the game. The Titans would end up giving up three points off that turnover. Another key mistake was when the Titans would move the ball into scoring position in the second half of the game. After a big run by D’Onta Foreman, the Titans were right on the doorstep of scoring again when Downing inexplicably decided to throw a screen pass. When that happened, Bengals defensive back Vonn Bell tipped the ball in the air to himself and intercepted the pass, knocking the potential of at least three points off the board. And finally, the Titans had a third and one in the second half on the Bengals side of the field. Instead of lining Derrick Henry up and running the football, Downing decides to run a run-pass option and the defense must have known exactly what was coming because when Tannehill kept the football off that RPO, the Bengals were right there waiting for him, stopping Tannehill for no gain. And on the ensuing play, Downing called a run play where it seemed like it was off from the beginning. The Bengals again knew what was coming and stopped Henry cold in the backfield. Those three series were stunted by the play-calling of a coordinator that seemed to not be able to get in a groove during the game.
The coaches deserve blame for this loss, but if there is one player that deserves some blame for this loss, then it is Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Sure, he made some big plays in this one. The pass to AJ Brown that tied the game at 16 was a great display of passing as he placed it in only a spot Brown could catch it. However, there were a lot of other things that were left to be desired.
The interception that started the game, Tannehill locked in on Julio Jones and neglected to see the Bengals defender right there. The tipped pass happened and was a great individual effort by Bell. But the third interception is something that just simply cannot happen. The Titans were driving to try and win the game and it was third down. Ryan Tannehill dropped back and passed it to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The pass was tipped and intercepted by the Bengals and a couple of plays later, the Bengals were kicking the game-winning field goal. On that play, Tannehill was throwing to a player that was not open. With the game being tied, Tannehill could have just got rid of the football and allowed the Titans to punch, giving the Bengals less than 30 seconds to drive the length of the football field essentially. But no, he decided to force one into a place where the ball had no reason to go, further helping the Bengals win the game.
The Titan’s defense tied a record with nine sacks in a playoff game and kept the Titans in the game for the most part, so you could say they did their job even though they lost. Holding the high-flying Bengals offense to 19 points should mean you win if you are Tennessee. But because of coaching mistakes, a coordinator that seemingly couldn’t find a groove, and a quarterback that didn’t take care of the football, the Titans are going home, as they move to 0-3 in the Divisional Round all-time as a number one seed. And just like that, a season full of possibilities is now over. Now the questions will start to mount as to what’s next for Tennessee.