On Sunday, the Titans for two quarters totally shut down LaDainian Tomlinson and for three quarters pummeled Philip Rivers, as they allowed the San Diego Chargers a mere 3 points in the game’s first 52 minutes. The Chargers came back to tie the game in regulation, though, thanks in part by a controversial 4th down conversion, and won the game in overtime.
Neither team was able to do much offensively early in the game. The Titans managed a first quarter field goal after a drive set up by a Michael Griffin interception of Philip Rivers that netted a mere 3 yards. The Titans had one decent drive in the first half, netting 36 yards to get down to the 11 after another interception, this one off of Billy Volek after Rivers left the game with an injury. Rob Bironas just missed a 29 yard field goal, though, and the Titans came away with 0 points. The Chargers tied it early in the third quarter, on another drive set up by an interception. LT doubled his first half yardage total with a 32 yard run to set up the Chargers on first and goal, but they couldn’t get in the end zone. The Titans finally got in the end zone after a drive that started with an interception. Four runs, three by White and a capper from 7 out by Brown, went the 19 yards, and the Titans took a 10-3 lead. The Titans started in SD territory again after a decent punt return, and White matched Brown’s TD with a 7 yard run of his own. The Chargers finally started a second drive of the game in Titan territory after an exchange of punts, and Tomlinson had a TD run of his own. After a 9 play Titan drive that ended with an incompletion on 3&4, the Chargers got the ball with 2:24 left at their own 20, and nearly didn’t get a first down. A short pass to LT. A short run by LT. On 3&5, a pass to LT, and it’s called complete. But, inside the last 2 minutes, the replay booth challenges, and it’s properly overturned. On 4&5, a pass to Chambers for 19. Ruled good on the field. Not actually caught, but not enough evidence to overturn. 11 plays later, the big one a pass to Chambers, and Rivers finds Gates in the end zone with :09 left for the tying score.
In overtime, the Chargers won the toss, but stalled out near midfield. No problem, the Scifres punt gets downed at the 2. 3&out for the Titans. Hentrich with a 57 yard punt, but a 14 yard return. 3&4, and Rivers completes one to Gates. A pass to Jackson down to the 16, and LT finishes the Titans off the next play. 23-17, game over. Gamblers left with mixed emotions, as the pointsline is a push. So, how’d the Titans do?
VY? Not as impressive this game. VY officially 13/21, 121, 0/2. The 2 INTs were both bad reads and costly. The YPA and YPC are low. He had 2 carries for 2 yards. One of them was when White didn’t run a good checkdown route, and he had to eat it. The other wasn’t a good decision. Roydell lead the team with 3 catches and 30 yards, including the team’s longest gain, for 17. White had 2 for 24. Moulds 1 for 15. These aren’t good numbers. Basically, the passing game didn’t make any plays against a Chargers secondary that’s generally been very shaky. Mike Williams was on the field, and Cromartie ran a better route than he did on the pass intended for him.
The running game? White had 30 carries for 113 and the TD. I’m not going to say anything about him, other than he looked like his normal self to me. Brown had 5 carries for 16 yards. The O-line didn’t do too badly, most notably in the drive up 17-10 when 8 carries ran clock and got yards.
The defense? As indicated above, pretty good to great for three quarters. For a quarter and overtime, not so good. The pass rush pretty much disappeared-Rivers had time to make plays, and the pass defense’s deficiencies were exposed. LT was shut down a lot of the time, but managed to pick up good yards when the Chargers really needed them. KVB had 7 solo tackles and an assist, including 3 sacks, but was shut down late, in part because he was held pretty much every danged snap, it seemed. Haynesworth was pretty productive, except late, and the Titans were noticeably worse when he wasn’t in the game, like when on LT’s game-ending TD run. Finnegan had a couple nice hits. Bulluck’s really looked to me like he lost a step this year, but I thought he had perhaps his best game this year, including a great breakup of a pass intended for Gates. Harper had an INT. It’s almost impossible to evaluate safety play on the TV, but I didn’t notice any noticeable defensive breakdowns that were Lowry’s fault. I’ll have to re-watch the last couple drives, though, to say something intelligent about why the defense failed when it counted.
Special teams? As noted above, Bironas missed a short FG, which is a but-for reason the Titans lost the game. That’s simply not acceptable from an NFL kicker. Bironas has been great this year, but he misses too many of those kicks. Chris Barclay had a decent punt return, but didn’t really do anything to make me think he won’t be cut when Henry’s suspension is over. Hentrich only averaged 38.6 yards on 8 punts, but had a couple really good ones. Kickoff coverage was pretty good. Punt return coverage wasn’t very impressive.
For better or for worse, when Titan fans look back at this game in the weeks, months, and years to come, the play that will be remembered is the Chambers non-catch on fourth down. The Chargers still had a time out left when this play happened, but the Titans basically could have nearly run the clock out had the play been called correctly. What Chambers said is pretty instructive (from the post-game press conference):
I turned around and the ball was really low and I knew had a shot to make a play on it. It was actually similar to a play I made in Minnesota, where I had to slide first and tried to get under the ball. In that game it got turned around for the other team. Luckily, there wasnt enough evidence to reverse the call. I made sure the ball was in my arms when I got up.
And when asked if he made the catch, he replied: “Under the circumstances of playing away, I was unsure at first. Once I saw the few camera angles, I felt comfortable that the play would stand.” Fisher was more blunt in his assessment:
I saw the ball on the ground. That happens. He just didnt get the look that he wanted. The only look he got was from behind, he didnt get anything from the front. Thats where we saw the ball move. Thats replay, thats part of the game.
This simply wasn’t a catch, and it was a clear error by the officials. I sympathize with referee Bill Carollo-he could tell the pass wasn’t complete, but there was no indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call. Without that, the drive continued. And the Titans defense had a chance to make a play. And they didn’t. Gates totally beat Griffin on the TD pass, and the game went to overtime. In overtime, the tired defense couldn’t stop the Chargers. Gates had another key 3rd down conversion, turning Fuller around and getting a slip. Harper, I believe, failed to make a tackle on a quick hitch that set the Chargers up at the 16. Nobody made a play on the game-winning TD. Yes, if the Chambers pass is ruled properly, the Titans win the game. But there were half a dozen things I could easily name that would have won the Titans the game, the most obvious being Bironas making a 29 yard field goal. What should be remembered about the Titans’ play this game is an inability to make the play when it needed to be made, not the officials’ screw-up.
The Titans face the Chiefs next week in Kansas City. The Chiefs were humiliated by the Broncos today, 41-7, so they should be about as angry as the Titans will hopefully be next Sunday. We’ll probably have a post up later this week on the playoffs, but it’s basically over. The Titans are effectively two games behind the Cleveland Browns, and tied with the Bills. Wins in the last 3 games, over the Chiefs, Jets, and Colts, will almost certainly be necessary. It would help if the Browns lose 2 of their last 3, specifically their conference games. Face it, it’s not going to happen.
We’ll have a post up this week on the playoff picture for the Titans. If I have time, I’d like to break down the Chargers’ 4th quarter drives, but that’ll depend on factors beyond my control. Self-promotion warning: on Friday, the Tennessean had an article on Antwan Odom that mentioned his outstanding QB hits total, using data from the website Football Outsiders. Well, assuming that’s the data I think it is, you may place your trust in the data on the same scale as your trust in me, as I’m the one who’s responsible for compiling the majority of that data.