Familiar Story as Chargers end Titans’ season

In their return to the playoffs after a three year absence, the Titans faced off against the Chargers this first Sunday in January at Qualcomm Stadium and came away on the wrong end of a 17-6 tally. The game looked a little like the first contest between the two teams, a low-scoring affair early that ended with the Titans unable to stop the Chargers on defense. For a real-time record of my thoughts on the game, check out the liveblog I did.
The Titans had a good start to the game, taking the opening kickoff 61 yards to set up a 30 yard FG by Rob Bironas. After the teams exchange 3&outs, the Titans took the ball down to the red zone again, only to see a Chris Brown fumble prevent them from scoring. The Chargers got their first first downs the next drive, but punted again. Backed up in their own territory, the Titans went 3&out, and the Chargers got the ball back in excellent field position. Alas for the Chargers, no points resulted, as Finnegan immediately intercepted Rivers’ pass in the end zone. Another TEN 3&out followed, and the Chargers moved the ball into field goal range, only to see Nate Kaeding push a 45 yard FG wide. The Titans then ran the left 3:06 off the first half clock with an 11 play drive that ended with a Rob Bironas FG from 44 yards away to give them a 6-0 halftime lead.
The Chargers came out strong in the second half, though, and cut that deficit in half on an 86 yard drive that featured 3 passes accounting for 72 of those yards. The Titans go 6&out, and a 78 play drive ends in a Rivers TD pass to Jackson. Jackson had 2 big catches for 45 yards, and Haynesworth was flagged for a personal foul penalty that added 15 more. The Titans get a big pass play of their own on the next drive, 26 to Ben Troupe, and make it down to the red zone, but Bironas juuuuust misses a FG from 38 that would have cut the deficit to 10-9. The Chargers then took the ball 72 yards for a TD that made it a two-score game, with Tomlinson converting 4&G from the 3 inch line on a second effort. The big play here was a 39 yard pass to Chris Chambers down to the 8 against horribly blown coverage. After that, it was all over but the shouting-TEN 3&out, Chargers run clock and punt the ball away, VY picked, and the Chargers run the clock out to end the Titans’ season.
So, what the heck happened? The same stuff that’s been said all year. To wit, (1) an inability to get the ball into the end zone. The Titans had the ball in scoring territory 4 times, and came away with 6 points. Granted, one of those was at the end of the half, but that drive was just more evidence of the overall conservatism of the attack-the primary goal was seemingly not to give SD the ball back, not to get the ball into the end zone. (2) General lack of offensive production. The Titans had 248 yards of total offense and 15 first downs. 6 of the Titans’ 10 drives gained 16 yards or fewer. (3) Lack of big plays from the offense. Aside from the aforementioned 26 yard pass to Troupe, the Titans’ longest play was 19 yards. As noted above, each of SD’s TD drives featured at least that many big plays. It’s hard to move the ball in the NFL, especially against the defense of a playoff team. Big plays prevent you from having to grind out a drive. The Titans offense hasn’t been explosive all year, and today was another example of that. (4) In contrast to (3), big plays against the Titans, especially in the passing game. The Titans generally had a very good defense this year. In particular, the run defense, except on 3&short, was outstanding. The pass defense was also very good, but primarily because of the pass rush. When competent NFL QBs got time to throw against the Titans, they were able to find holes in the secondary. The absence of Chris Hope probably exacerbated this today, but injuries are a part of the game. Finnegan had a fine start, but he was beat for big plays-not the first time that happened. Nick Harper still can’t play man-again, not a first. The Chargers today had 6 pass plays of 20+ yards, and 2 more of 19. 350 yards of total offense, and 235 of that was to Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers, each of whom average 20+ yards per catch. It’s really hard to win games when that happens, unless you have a good offense.
White had 19 carries for 69 yards-for the second week in a row, there wasn’t any carry where he looked like he was actually competent to me, at least beyond a demonstration of momoentum (p=m*v). Brown had 4 for 13, but disappeared from the game after his fumble. Hall really showed up, with 3 for 14, including a couple third down conversion. Davis had an end-around for 11, and Henry had 1 for 0. In the pass game, VY was 16 of 29 for 138 yards and an interception. Not good, and a mix of his fault and his WR’s fault. Gage started the game with 2 drops, and had 1 catch for 19. Troupe, Moulds and Hartsock led the team in receptions, 3 each, for 44, 18, and 16 yards, respectively. Ealy had 2 for 17, Hall 1 for 16, Davis 2 for 11, and White 1 for -3. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
Defensively, only one sack, that by Finnegan on a corner blitz early in the game. More pressure at times, but Rivers was only brought down that once. Bulluck led the team in tackles with 8-2, Griffin 7-0, Finnegan 6-2, and Tulloch 6-1. Haynesworth was ok, but not dominant, 5 tackles but not that disruptive a force. KVB was much less a factor than the first SD game, only 1 tackle and 2 assist. Bulluck got trapped in some zone coverage problems, today, and also got beat by Gates before he left the game on a 3rd down play. Thornton let another 3rd down conversion happen. I’ll stop there, lest I get myself worked up again.
Special teams? Eh. Hentrich clanked a punt or two, and didn’t come up with any boomers (average 37.2, long of 43). Returns were generally short, long of 10. Kickoffs were reasonable, and kick coverage was fine, long of 22. Henry was AWFUL on kickoff returns, 4 for a 17 yard average and a long of 21. Davis returned 2 punts, for 8 and 6 yards. Bironas also missed a FG, which proved costly and would have kept the game within 1 score even with the Charger TD. Still, any game with no long returns against and no Titan turnovers or muffs feels non-awful. There’s something to be said for low expectations.
Well, that’s that, no trip to New England for the Titans. Next game, probably in August, the preseason. You’ll see content here before then. For football fans, the rest of the playoffs, then the pre-draft and the draft, minicamps, free agency, and finally training camp. You’ll see content here over the offseason. I’m sure I’ll be running my VCR, doing all that tape work I didn’t make time to do during the season. This game will probably be first in the queue when I do get round to that. For now, remember the season is over for 23 other teams, too, and some of them have considerably more work than the Titans do to be a consistent winning team. Then again, you never know. In the spirit of the season, though, merry end of season to all, and to all a good night.

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