Well, the bloom is off the rose. With players like Bernard Pollard talking about today's contest against the San Francisco 49ers as a "must win" to avoid going into the bye on a 3-game losing streak, the Titans turned in their worst performance of the season, going down 24-0 and hardly showing a pulse until the fourth quarter in a 31-17 loss that sends them into the bye with that 3-game losing streak and under .500 at 3-4.
The 49ers started off pretty good on offense. They only had 3 points on their first two drives after stalling out in field goal range and starting at the 1, but scored touchdowns on their next two possessions. Colin Kaepernick had some nice throws and made some plays with his legs (an area where the Titans struggled once again), Frank Gore ran hard, including scoring two touchdowns, and Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin made good catches. There were less productive after that, but at 24-0 this game was basically over.
The Titans for the first three quarters or so looked a lot like the same offense we'd seen the previous couple weeks. Chris Johnson looked okay at times, but never noticeably got any extra yards. Jake Locker in his return looked kind of sharp, but almost all of his throws seemed like they were of the short and quick variety, designed to protect him against a pass rush that might be able to get to him. He had his first INT of the season, when the corner didn't bite on a Nate Washington double move. The first big play came at the end of the third quarter, when there was no double-move and Nate outjumped the corner for the ball. That led to a field goal, and a screen CJ took 66 yards made it 24-10. A defensive stop gave the Titans life, but a Darius Reynaud muff recovered in the end zone for a TD to make it 31-10 confirmed the game was indeed over. Locker found Delanie Walker for a score to make it 31-17, but the onside kick failed and that was that.
Take-aways from this game? I think this three-game losing streak confirms the Titans are no better than an average/mediocre team. They've played teams similar to who they want to be, and come up short against all of them. That was the big question after the encouraging 3-1 start, and I think it's been answered. Locker was better than I feared he would be and did not seem to suffer any negative consequences from playing. Darius Reynaud was awful-not just the muff, but an awful fair catch and some awful kick returns. It's not a surprise if he doesn't make it to St. Louis. Kenny Britt barely saw the field early and struggled with his composure, earning a 15-yard penalty (that should have been offsetting) after possibly getting kneed in the head.
Penalties were an issue with the Titans, notably a spate of them early that took away about anything positive the Titans did. The most consequential of those was an Akeem Ayers low hit flag that negated a Bernard Pollard pick on the 49ers first TD drive. The Titans aren't good enough that they can make mistakes and hang with good teams, which just reinforces my big takeaway from today's game.