Bengals 31, Titans 20: Five observations as Tennessee drops second straight in three-phase disaster
CINCINNATI — Coach Mike Vrabel had warned his Titans: These Bengals were not to be overlooked.
Their 1-5-1 record was misleading to a certain degree. Vrabel last week said he informed his team that all but one of Cincinnati’s games before Sunday had been decided by one score. With exciting rookie quarterback Joe Burrow leading the charge, their offense was potent, capable of doing enough to help stage an upset.
Especially against a defense that has struggled as mightily as Tennessee’s.
In the end, four quarters at Paul Brown Stadium saw the Titans deliver their sleepiest effort of the season in a 31-20 loss Sunday.
The defense was bad – again. Stephen Gostkowski missed a kick – again. And in an unfamiliar twist, the Titans offense couldn’t bail out the rest of the team.
A true three-phase disaster.
Here are five observations as the Titans fell to 5-2:
Essentially zero pass rush
It looked like the Titans finally – finally! – had Burrow in their sights for a sack in the third quarter. But despite four chances to bring him down – outside linebacker Harold Landry had two opportunities, and cornerback Chris Jackson and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney each got a hand on him – Burrow continue to evade, eventually escaping for a 6-yard gain.
It was that kind of day for the Titans. It’s been that kind of season, really.
Tennessee entered with only seven sacks on the season. (Only Jacksonville had fewer.) But this represented a get-right game for the unit, facing a quarterback who had been sacked a league-high 28 times. And he was being protected by an offensive line that was missing four of five starters because of injury.
No matter. The Titans still failed to generate much of a pass rush. They were credited with only two quarterback hurries.
Their league-worst third-down defense continued to look abysmal, too. The Titans allowed the Bengals to convert on 10 of 14 tries.
Offense can’t bail them out
The Titans entered ranked fourth in points per game with 31.3. Against the Bengals' 24th-ranked defense, it finally fell utterly flat.
Ryan Tannehill completed 18 of 30 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Derrick Henry ran 18 times for 112 yards. It was the first time the Titans lost a game in which Henry ran for at least 100 yards. They had won the previous 16, including the postseason.
Their one successful drive featured a lot of running. During a 10-play drive, nine were runs; the one pass fell incomplete. Sixty yards came on the ground, including the exclamation point: Henry’s eighth rushing touchdown of the season. The drive also featured a 15-yard penalty against the Bengals for a horse collar tackle.
Stephen Gostkowski misses yet another field goal
For as inconsistent as Gostkowski has been for the Titans, he had been perfect on field goal tries of 50 yards or more.
Gostkowski had his 53-yard field goal attempt clank off the right upright in the first quarter.
He’s now 10-for-17 on field goals this season. His seven misses are a league high.
The rest of the Titans special teams unit struggled again, too. It allowed a 49-yard kickoff return by Brandon Wilson right after the Titans had gotten to within 24-14 with about 11 minutes left. And Beau Brinkley botched another snap; last week it was on a punt, this week it was on an extra-point attempt in the fourth quarter.
Rare misfire in red zone
The Titans had been 14-for-14 in scoring touchdowns in goal-to-go situations this season. Leading the way was Tannehill, who entered with 13 touchdowns to zero interceptions in the red zone. He had a league-best 81.5 completion percentage in the red zone.
All of that went out the window on the Titans' opening possession. Tannehill threw a perfectly placed ball to wide receiver Corey Davis for a 27-yard gain that brought the Titans into the red zone. But the quarterback followed that up with a terrible decision to throw to wide receiver A.J. Brown in the end zone, and the ball was intercepted by Cincinnati's Jessie Bates.
Adam Humphries leaves with concussion
It was a spectacular display of effort by Adam Humphries that ended with a scary scene at Paul Brown Stadium.
Toward the end of the first half, Humphries extended for a long catch over the middle. At the end of it, he absorbed a big hit from Bates.
Early in the third quarter, Humphries was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a concussion.
No flag was thrown, but on the CBS broadcast, former NFL official Gene Steratore said it should have been a defenseless receiver foul on Bates.
The play initially was ruled a completed catch before an official review deemed it incomplete. More important, Humphries was able to rise to his feet after being down for about five minutes. He walked slowly to a cart that took him off the field.
Reach Erik Bacharach at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ErikBacharach.