Six days after giving a three-minute speech lambasting the local media for being too critical, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel saw his team get lambasted by the Cleveland Browns.
Though the Titans mounted a respectable comeback effort in the second half, the game was over early. Cleveland took a 31-point lead into the locker room at halftime after the Titans produced perhaps the worst first-half performances in franchise history.
The 41-35 loss, which came on the heels of the Titans winning two straight games against talented opponents, was the latest example of the team failing to handle success well, something that’s been a persistent problem since Vrabel became head coach in 2018.
When the #Titans lose, it’s never “man, that other team played really well.” It’s always because the Titans completely blow it.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) December 6, 2020
A HISTORY OF DISAPPOINTMENT
That’s not to say that the Titans become cocky or full of themselves following important wins, because they probably don’t. They’re a team with strong character.
It is indisputable, though, that the Titans, under Vrabel, have shown a propensity to follow up their biggest, most impressive wins and win streaks by losing to significantly inferior teams or getting badly blown out by teams on their level.
The first time it occurred was in Week Five of the 2018 season, in which the 3-1 Titans lost to a bad Buffalo Bills team just one week after a thrilling win over the Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champions, at the time.
It happened again in Week 11 of 2018 when the Titans were blown out by the Colts just one week after a 34-10 win over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
In 2019, the Titans followed up two straight wins with an all-time dud against the Carolina Panthers in Week Nine. They also blew their best chance to win the AFC South when they lost to the Texans in Week 15 on the heels of a four-game winning streak.
That leads us to the Titans’ disastrous loss to Cleveland on Sunday. After beating Lamar Jackson’s Ravens in an overtime nailbiter and blowing out the Colts in back-to-back weeks, the Titans made QB Baker Mayfield look like Dan Marino and completely melted on offense.
MIKE AT THE MIC
The loss was a bit rich, considering Vrabel’s aforementioned critique of the media’s treatment of the Titans earlier in the week.
“Listen guys, three weeks ago Arthur stunk,” Vrabel declared in response to a question about offensive play-calling. “We couldn’t gain any yards against Chicago. We couldn’t get any yards against somebody else. It goes up and down,” Vrabel said.
“One week we’re going to stink and this guy sucks and then I suck … you can ask me anything you want to ask me, but it’s going to depend on the week. It’s three weeks ago, it’s this guy stinks and this guy’s awful. We’re going to try to improve and keep working.”
Six days later, the Titans fell behind 38-7 in the first half. That sucked.
To say that Vrabel’s press conference banter is indicative of some kind of problem he has in setting the tone for his team handling success would be very unfair.
It is worth noting, though, that this isn’t the first time Vrabel has made sarcastically boastful comments that became ironic on the heels of success.
Following a win in 2019, Vrabel sarcastically thanked the media for abstaining from questions about benching QB Marcus Mariota.
“I do notice there’s not as many ‘fire the quarterback’ questions this week, so I appreciate that,” Vrabel said with a smirk.
Over the next two weeks, Mariota turned in two of the worst performances of his career and was benched.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
Vrabel: I do think that we’re going to fight and compete. There are no moral victories. The charge is to try to recreate how we left locker room and played in the 2nd half #Titans
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 6, 2020
As QB Ryan Tannehill said following the Titans’ catastrophe against the Browns, having success on the heels of prior successes requires a sense of urgency, something the Titans seemed to not have even a semblance of on Sunday.
“You have to come out and start games with a sense of urgency,” Tannehill said.
“At the end of the day, on Sunday, when the ball’s kicked off, we have to be ready to go. We can’t come out slow and put ourselves in a hole like that.”
Far too often, after big wins, the Titans have done just that: come out slow and put themselves in a hole.
Why does it happen? Who knows. But it’s a problem, and it’s one that the Titans will need to fix if they want to succeed in the postseason.
The Titans aren’t going to win every game, and simply losing isn’t the problem here. The problem is that, when they lose, it’s almost always a major disappointment and massively deflating for fans.
Late Titans-super-fan Matt Neely’s go-to maxim about his favorite team, “they’ll only let you down,” unfortunately continues to ring true.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel / USA Today