The Tennessee Titans couldn’t get past their bevy of injuries in a literal must-win game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Five weeks ago, the Titans knew they would have to run the table for a legitimate shot at a playoff berth. After winning four straight, the Titans playoff hopes were snuffed out by their division rival.
Colts QB Andrew Luck is now 11-0 against the Titans in his career. No other QB has beaten a particular team 11 straight times without a loss.
Stunningly, reports surfaced Sunday morning that the Titans would be without QB Marcus Mariota in the game. Those reports turned out to be true—Mariota did not even participate in pregame warmups.
Despite making a few good plays throughout the game, backup Blaine Gabbert didn’t really come close to doing his job well in Mariota’s place. He missed open receivers with errant throws on numerous occasions and threw a costly interception in the fourth quarter when the Titans were driving with a chance to tie the game.
“We definitely were not good on third down,” Gabbert said after the game. “That’s kind of the tale of the game. When you can’t stay on the field for extended periods of time, we put our defense in tough positions and you’re playing catchup at that point.”
When you take a hard look at all of the injuries sustained by the Titans in this game—and over the course of the season—the position they were in was pretty impressive.
The Titans played on Sunday night without Mariota (stinger), CB Logan Ryan (broken leg, IR), LB Brian Orakpo (elbow) and DT Jurrell Casey (knee, IR). That’s in addition to the absences of TE Jonnu Smith (knee), RT Jack Conklin (knee) and TE Delanie Walker (ankle), all of whom were placed on injured reserve over a month ago.
Yet, the Titans were down just seven points in the fourth quarter of a Week 17 game in which a win would have earned the team a playoff berth.
The Titans scrapped and fought their way to the golden situation they found themselves in at season’s end. In the end, they just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank.
“I think that this is what happens in the NFL,” head coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. Sometimes you have injuries and you have to be able to be prepared for them and try to coach the guys who are stepping in there and get them to improve. Everybody is here for a reason, and that’s to try to find a way to help the team win.”
Vrabel can offer the “next man up” sentiment as much as he would like, but the Titans pretty clearly just ran out of bodies.
Depth is obviously very important for NFL teams. Injuries do happen, and you’re going to be tested throughout a season that everyone loves to describe as a marathon and not a sprint.
But when a team suffers what the Titans have this season, it’s hard to get anything accomplished. A team that was already dealing with the drastic changes involved in playing with a new coaching staff lost a number of its crucial leaders throughout the season.
The Titans have a lot of talent, but they need to get healthy. The offseason will surely give them a chance to do that.
Now that the coaching staff has a year under their belt, the Titans figure to be a much-improved team in 2019. In 2018, though, they just weren’t good enough.
Cover image: USA Today/Jim Brown