Vrabel

The Tennessee Titans are perhaps the most enigmatic team in the NFL.

Statement wins over the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams earned Tennessee consideration as the top team in not just the AFC but the entire league. 

But then the Titans lay an egg like they did in Week 3 against the New York Jets and on Sunday in their 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans — both of which make you question who exactly are the real Titans?

“We’ve had a lot of great wins, we’ve had some bad losses,” safety Kevin Byard said. “That’s the way it goes in this league when you don’t go out there and play well, you underestimate a team, you get your behinds whooped. I talked about it when we lost against the Jets, we’ll find out what type of team we are when adversity hits. We’ll find out what kind of team we are next week.”

Sure, the Titans have had more injuries this year than Marcus Mariota had wins as the team’s starting QB (they have a league-high 15 players on the injured reserve list), but that can’t be the only reason a 1-8 Texans team came into Nissan Stadium and made Tennessee look like a junior varsity squad.

Ryan Tannehill’s four interceptions certainly didn’t help. Neither did the punt that Chester Rogers inadvertently touched and subsequently fumbled away to the Texans that set them up on Tennessee’s 5-yard line. 

“We turned the ball over five times; you know what I mean?” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “If you don't play well in this league, I don't care who it is, you turn the ball over in this league, you're going to lose. Nobody wants to hear that, nobody believes that, but when you do that, it doesn't matter what the record is. We had five turnovers. They had zero. You're going to lose the game 99 percent of the time.”

I’ll concede that the five turnovers were part of the reason the Titans looked so disheveled. But the Texans are a bad football team. I’m not talking Jacksonville Jaguars bad; I’m talking getting outscored 119-17 in their last four road games bad. 

So, what happened on Sunday?

It’s not like the Texans came in and overwhelmed the Titans. Tyrod Taylor threw for only 107 yards. As a team, Houston only ran for a combined 83 yards. No Texans receiver had more than 37 yards. The Texans' only touchdowns came from Taylor rushing touchdowns from inside the 10, and the Titans out-gained the Texans 420 yards to 190.

“It was shitty football,” tackle Taylor Lewan said. “We didn’t play good. Stalled in the red zone, we did a good job moving the ball, but as an offense it just wasn’t good enough. There is no excuse. We have to be better. How does that look? We all have to play better. What we have done in the past weeks in having success, at no point did we think we were going to lose this game. If we just keep pounding away, we are going to find a way to come back with it, but when you spot them that many points time runs out on you.”

Tannehill is throwing to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers and Dez Fitzpatrick, and handing off to D’Onta Foreman, Adrian Peterson and Dontrell Hilliard, and that alone almost makes you want to give the Titans a pass.

But for the past six weeks, Tennessee has beat teams it wasn’t supposed to (Buffalo, Kansas City, Los Angeles) and been embarrassed by teams that — on paper — should be near-guaranteed wins.

Six of the Titans’ eight wins this year have come against teams with a record of .500 or better. However, two of their three losses have come to teams with a losing record and just four combined wins.

But that seems to be the case every year since Mike Vrabel took over as head coach in 2018: The Titans can beat playoff teams, but they struggle with sub-par opponents.

Counting the Jets and Texans losses this season, Tennessee has six losses that many would consider bad losses (teams with six or fewer wins) in the Mike Vrabel era:

2021: L, 27-24 to New York Jets (2-8)

2021: L, 22-13 to Houston Texans (2-8)

2020: L, 31-20 to Cincinnati Bengals (4-11-1)

2019: L, 20-7 to Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

2019: L, 30-20 to Carolina Panthers (5-11)

2018: L, 13-12 to Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Which raises the question, why do the Titans have issues beating the team they’re supposed to beat? 

“It’s not like we go in and are like, ‘Oh, it is the Jets, we are going to win. Oh, it is the Texans we are going to win,’” Lewan said. “We just can’t have turnovers. We just have to be better as an offense. … I wish I had something to say that would fix this and ease everybody. The reality is we started the charge too late.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_