NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Derrick Henry had his best game in weeks by the end of the first quarter, and the Tennessee Titans led 14-7.
Then the ball and the game slipped through their fingers – literally – as the Titans turned the ball over three times before halftime and four overall Sunday in an embarrassing 36-22 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
”We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot today,” said two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry who had 96 yards rushing after 15 minutes only to finish with 121 yards.
Ryan Tannehill echoed the same theme: ”The whole first half, just shot ourselves in the foot with turnovers.”
The four turnovers matched a season high from Tennessee’s Week 2 loss at Buffalo, though Sunday’s mistakes hurt worse with the Titans (7-6) having a chance to eliminate the Jaguars (5-8) from contention for the AFC South title. The Jaguars converted those turnovers into 20 points.
The Titans remain atop the division, looking for a third straight title in a chase that will be tougher a week after coach Mike Vrabel said this team was at a crossroads to determine how this season would end. Owner Amy Adams Strunk fired general manager Jon Robinson on Tuesday.
Defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said he thinks the Titans are still at that crossroads of needing to find a way to win and stick together.
”People have to do their jobs, and we have to hold each other accountable, and the same thing with the coaches. Coaches coach and we play,” Simmons said.
The turnovers started on the Titans’ second possession after Henry capped their opening drive with a 3-yard run and the 76th touchdown of his career in his 99th game. That tied Priest Holmes for the sixth-most rushing TDs by a player in his first 100 games in the Super Bowl era.
Jaguars linebacker Travon Walker, the No. 1 pick overall in April’s draft, sacked Tannehill and stripped him of the ball. Tannehill capped Tennessee’s next drive with a 10-yard TD pass to rookie Chig Okonkwo.
Then the Titans quarterback, who had been intercepted only once over the previous seven games, thought he saw a chance at a quick pass to wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The receiver was busy blocking, and Jaguars safety Andrew Wingard picked off the pass.
The Titans still led 14-13 when Henry, having the best season of his career catching the ball, followed a 21-yard run with a catch he took 16 yards. Then he got popped by Shaquille Quarterman, sending the ball into the arms of Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen.
Henry, who had only two fumbles coming into this game, then got credited for the fourth and final turnover to open the Titans’ first drive in the fourth quarter. Ready for a direct snap with Tannehill nearby, center Ben Jones had a low snap that Henry couldn’t grab before Arden Key snagged it for the Jaguars.
”I got to be better,” Henry said. ”No excuse on that. Just fall on the ball and play another down.”
The Titans have either clinched a playoff berth or the AFC South in the regular-season finale each of the past three seasons. This time, they wrap up the regular season with a trip to Jacksonville.
First, they have to snap out of the first three-game skid since coach Mike Vrabel’s debut season in 2018. That skid came in October, and those Titans finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs, losing the season finale.
”We are going to have to be able to weather the storm and find out who is willing to give us that extra push here down the stretch,” Vrabel said.
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