Out with the thoughts of playoffs, in with the housecleaning and rebuilding.
The Tennessee Titans in a must-win game against a one-win Jacksonville Jaguars team, laid an egg Sunday, losing 24-19, to fall to 4-7 on the season and choking out what remaining life the 2012 season had.
Just like last season, the letdown came against a team that has struggled all year.
Jacksonville, playing before as many empty seats as fans on Sunday, came into the game 1-9 and had not won at Everbank Stadium all season, losing their previous five games there by at least 17 points.
“A team like Jacksonville or any team that’s not winning, it seems that if you give them momentum early, and give them some belief, then it’s going to be a tough game,” running back Chris Johnson said. “Teams like that you’ve got to get on them early, and if you get on them early, sometimes they’ll give up.”
Instead, the Jags managed to control the game for much of the day against the Titans, and made enough clutch plays to claim the win.
The same thing happened to the Titans last year, when they handed the Indianapolis Colts their first win of the season after an 0-13 start, and the year before when the Miami Dolphins garnered their only home win of the year at the expense of the Titans.
“It was a game where we had plenty of opportunities right from the beginning with the turnover and we had to settle for a field goal. You do that in this league and it ends up costing you,” Munchak said.
The play Munchak was referring to was on Chad Henne’s first pass of the day, one that was tipped by Sen’Derrick Marks and picked off by Alterraun Verner on the deflection. It gave the Titans a golden opportunity to cash in, but instead, they settled for Rob Bironas’ 38-yard field goal, the first of four on the day from him.
On Sunday, Tennessee’s defense played OK for much of the game, even recording six sacks of Henne, but the veteran, who supplanted injured Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, showed poise enough to fire a pair of touchdown passes against the Titans.
The Titans found themselves down 21-12 in the fourth quarter with time ticking down. The Titans offensive problems came courtesy of their own misfirings in plus territory, as Tennessee did not reach the end zone until the 4:52 mark of the game, when Jake Locker found Kenny Britt for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
“We know how badly we need to win this,” Munchak said. “These games are such that no matter how it goes for 58 minutes, you have to win it, and we didn’t.”
The Titans defense got the ball back for the offense, but a Locker pass for Jared Cook was intercepted by Dwight Lowery, ending Tennessee’s last best chance to keep its season alive.
“I’ve got to take better care of the ball at that point. That’s on me,” said Locker, who was 23 of 40 for 261 yards. “The guy got his hand on it and they picked it off.”
Tennessee did get the football back at the end of the game with 24 seconds left, but even that ended in disaster, first with a kickoff trying the Home Run Throwback that pinned the Titans deep, and then polishing off most of the rest of the clock with a series of laterals that eventually lost yardage.
A fitting end for a Titans team that definitely went backwards with Sunday’s inexplicable loss.
When it was over, the Titans denied that they took the Jaguars for granted, seeing their struggles coming in.
“I don’t think there was any lapse in preparation,” Locker said. “I don ‘t think guys came in here just expecting to walk out and win the football game. Every team in the NFL is a good team, if you don’t think that, you’re mistaken. I don’t think our team prepared that way. We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to to win the game.”
Added Munchak, “We didn’t make enough plays to win this football game. It’s in the division, and by no means did we take anyone lightly. We’re not good enough to do that. We just didn’t make enough plays.”