NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans (11-6) won the AFC South and hosted a home playoff game for the first time in 12 years. Their season ended in 13 points, an inexplicable 4th-and-2 punt and a loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens (12-5).
Tennessee’s lowest-scoring performance of the 2020-2021 season came on Wildcard Weekend when they needed points most.
Plenty of questions will swirl around the Titans heading into this offseason. None of them will sting more than Mike Vrabel’s in-game decision to punt at the Baltimore 40-yard line. It is the latest in a series of questionable special teams calls for Tennessee the last three weeks.
Now, their season ends because of it.
Make It Make Sense
The aforementioned Titans punt occurred on 4th-and-2 with 10:06 remaining in the 4th quarter.
Vrabel’s Titans trailed 13 to 17. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker gifted his opponent a rare miss from 52-yards out on a field goal to give Tennessee exceptional field position. With the NFL’s leading rusher and a team that prides itself on it’s run first attack, Arthur Smith’s offense got a 1st-and-10 at the Baltimore 38. Derrick Henry rushed for his longest carry of the day (8). Ryan Tannehill threw two consecutive incompletions and Vrabel opted for a punt instead of going for the conversion on 4th down.
A dumbfounding decision that actively worked against Vrabel’s pattented ethos of “fast and aggressive.”
“Just decided to punt,” said Vrabel. “Thought we were playing well defensively. Thought we would get a punt inside the 10 and be able to play the field position game. Had some time there that I felt like, you know, we could, and we held them to a field goal. It’s just we were playing against a kicker there that kicks them from the 40. Becomes a field position battle, and I thought that we’d get a stop and hit them inside the ten. The way we were playing defensively, I was really proud of those guys. Obviously, Lamar (Jackson) had a fantastic day but I thought we were dialed in. I enjoyed watching those guys play defense.”
Enjoying your defense’s performance is nice, but the decision is unacceptable.
Per Pro Football Reference, Tennessee opting to punt on 4th-and-2 down one score in the fourth quarter was the first time a team in the playoffs had done so since their database started tracking situational football in 1994.
More Questions Than Answers
Pass rush was no issue on Sunday against the the Ravens. The Titans defense secured five sacks on Sunday in defeat. How they can improve before the next campaign will linger over GM Jon Robinson’s offseason like a bad smell until there can be legitmate results. Tennessee finished the regular season with the third-lowest sack total in the NFL (19).
Then, there are the expiring contracts.
Wide receiver Corey Davis’ breakout year sputtered to a halt with five catches for 13 yards in the final three games. On top of that, he remained sidelined for his team’s final possession when the Titans needed a score down four points.
Vrabel was not interested in sharing what happened to the pending free agent wide receiver stating that “obviously, he wasn’t able to go.”
Davis is among the 20 unrestricted free agents Robinson will have to make decisions on this offseason. Every year brings a new roster, but many of the players who made Tennessee’s record-setting offense so potent will be up for grabs come March.
Ravens go 3 & out too. Byard in coverage on Mark Andrews on 3rd and 5. Hold on to your butts
Titans Season Summary
Smith might be a head coach in 2021. Many of the core pieces that have been a part of the Titans back-to-back playoff appearances will be scattered to the wind. Many things were accomplished this season where COVID-19 dominated the narrative and all those who participated should be proud of the way they soldiered through.
For a franchise looking to build upon recent success, however, Tennessee failed. Their offense, entirely their greatest strength petered out when it needed to carry them most.
Picking up the pieces this time around could prove to be a much greater challenge.