The Tennessee Titans’ strategy of building up a halftime lead then holding on for dear life in the second half finally caught up to them as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs come back from a 17-9 deficit to knock off the Titans 20-17 in overtime Sunday at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
After allowing 10 points on their opening two drives, the Titans stifled the Chiefs for seven consecutive drives, forcing five punts, a missed field goal and an interception as they clung to an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Then in typical Mahomes fashion, the QB engineered a 13-play, 93-yard touchdown drive and converted a successful 2-point conversion to tie it 17-17 and send the game into overtime, where Kansas City hit a 28-yard field goal before forcing a turnover-on-downs on Tennessee’s next possession to seal the win.
Derrick Henry rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns while Malik Willis completed just 5 of 16 passes for 80 yards and rushed for another 40 in defeat.
"There's no moral victories,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Is there more we could have done? Yeah, there's more that I could do, and there's more the coaches could do, and the players – so we could win."
Below are the things that stood out — good and bad — from the Titans’ Week 9 loss to the Chiefs:
Good: Run game keeps racking up yards
Henry has rushed for 100 or more yards in five straight games, and he’s scored seven touchdowns over that span. It’s no secret the Titans offense goes as Henry goes, and as long as he’s topping 100 yards, the Titans shouldn’t be out of most games.
Willis also added 40 yards on the ground, and the Titans employed a few more designed QB runs and rollouts, which helped Willis establish a rhythm in the first half.
Both Henry (6.8) and Willis (5.0) averaged five or more yards per carry, and the offensive line has done a solid job of opening up holes and providing solid running windows over the last few weeks for whoever is carrying the ball.
Bad: The secondary gets shredded, again
The Titans secondary has been a mess this season, and MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes picked Tennessee apart for 446 yards and a touchdown.
Through eight games, the Titans have allowed a 300-yard passer five times. Eleven different receivers caught a pass against the Titans on Sunday, they’ve allowed seven different receivers to catch at least one pass in seven of eight games, and they’ve surrendered 25 or more completions in six of eight games this year.
The only defensive back to allow a completion percentage less than 60 this season is Kristian Fulton (56.3), and the only DBs to allow fewer than 10 yards per reception are Roger McCreary (9.2), Amani Hooker (8.6) and Andrew Adams (6.0). It’s safe to assume if the Titans are playing even a slightly above average quarterback, they’ll likely allow close to 300 passing yards.
Good: Ryan Stonehouse — the field position weapon
Stonehouse leads the NFL with a punting average of 54 yards and he’s placed 15 punts inside the 20. Against the Chiefs, he averaged nearly 50 yards per punt and had a long of 63 yards. In games such as the last two weeks where the offense had difficulty scoring points and moving the chains, having a weapon that can flip field position and pin opponents deep in their own end zone like Stonehouse can is invaluable.
Bad: No receiver recorded a reception
Of Willis’ five completions on Sunday, three went to tight ends and two went to running backs. The fact that Robert Woods (2), Chris Conley (1), Cody Hollister (1) and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (1) combined for five targets, and they didn’t catch a single one, is downright shameful.
"It's a team sport,” Willis said. "I miss throws sometimes, so I can't be mad if someone doesn't make a play. We're not perfect beings. We all make plays, and we all miss plays. I can't be mad. We're one team. I make mistakes as well – we're all human."
The Titans receiver group, which may be the worst collection of pass catchers I’ve seen, ranks last in the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns. The blame for how bad the WR room is rests solely on the front office, which decided it would be better to throw to a slew of practice squad players than open up the wallet to keep a player who accounted for one-quarter of Tennessee’s receiving yards the last three seasons.
Good: The front seven was relentless
Mahomes was sacked four times, hit eight times and pressured on seemingly every one of his drop backs. Though he threw for 446 yards, the Titans were in his face constantly, flushing him out of the pocket and forcing him to make the occasional errant throw. Without Harold Landry and down Bud Dupree for the second half, Denico Autry (two sacks), Mario Edwards (one sack), Demarcus Walker (one sack) and Jeffery Simmons were harassing the Chiefs offensive line and making life difficult for Mahomes.
When the defensive line wasn’t chasing down Mahomes, the rest of the front seven essentially eliminated the Chiefs’ run game. Tennessee lived in the Kansas City backfield, limiting Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Isaiah Pacheco, Jerrick McKinnon and Michael Burton to a combined 14 yards on 13 carries.
"We are just proud of how we played," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "I don't know how many plays we played on defense – probably like 100 or something like that. We gave up a ton of yards, but we battled our asses off. We kept us in the game the majority of the game against an explosive offense. I told them when I walked to the sideline when they kicked the field goal – 'Hey, … I can't ask for nothing more. Everybody was out there battling. Guys were injured, giving everything they've got, and that's all I can ask for at the end of the day."
Bad: Aside from Henry, the offense poses no threat
Henry accounted for exactly 50 percent of Tennessee’s total offense against the Chiefs and 64 percent in last week’s win over Houston. In fact, Henry is responsible for nearly 43 percent of Tennessee’s total offense this year, and his 108.8 yards rushing per game isn’t too far off from the 154.8 yards passing the team averages per game.
While Tannehill has seemingly cut down on his turnovers, no Titans receiver or tight end averages more than 32 yards receiving per game, and the team’s passing game ranks last in the NFL.
Outside of leading receiver Robert Woods, who has a combined two receptions on four targets the last two weeks, no other pass catcher has more than 14 receptions or 18 targets. Tennessee is one of just five teams to average less than 300 yards of total offense per game and it’s 18.6 points per game ranks 24th in the league.
Henry notwithstanding, opposing defenses have no real reason to be scared of this Titans offense.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_