Rough going for offense as Titans fall to Panthers, 27-10

Even in the NFL, opponents matter. A week after shredding one of the worst defenses in the NFL, Marcus Mariota found going much tougher today against one of the best. The Carolina Panthers completely shut down the rookie passer and the rest of the offense in the second half and moved the ball well early and late to come away with a 27-10 victory.

The game started inauspiciously. Both of Carolina’s first two possessions ended up in the end zone. The Panthers were barely tested, facing only one third down on the two drives, and Cam Newton was a perfect 10-10. The Titans kept things competitive, though, with Mariota’s passing setting up a Dexter McCluster 25-yard scoring romp and a field goal made it 14-10. It stayed that way almost into the fourth quarter. Tennessee wasn’t doing anything on offense, but the Titans had found a working combination on defense. The pass rush was getting to Newton, sacking him a season-high 5 times total, and forcing Carolina to punt. But the Panthers were getting field position, and that didn’t last.

After four straight punts, Carolina’s last four non-kneeldown possessions ended up in scores, with Newton pretty much officially ending things with the 1-yard score to make it 27-10 with under three minutes to play. A stat-padding drive followed, but McCluster fumbled to make that the final score.

News and notes:

  • McCluster had the 25-yard score. On his and Antonio Andrews’ other 13 carries, the Titans gained 8 yards. Total.
  • Bishop Sankey was sprung from jail to carry the ball twice.
  • Justin Hunter matched McCluster for a team-leading 4 receptions and his 47 yards were second to Delanie Walker’s 3-52, but he suffered a nasty-looking lower right leg/ankle injury late that will likely knock him out for the season.
  • Dorial Green-Beckham: 2 targets, 0 receptions, one widely-criticized effort on this week’s Mariota back-footed duck under pressure, which Panthers safety Kurt Coleman did successfully intercept.
  • The Titans started two possessions beyond their own 20, at midfield with 4 seconds to play in the first half (incomplete hail mary), and at the 29 after one of Carolina’s punts. The Titans averaged starting at their own 17 on Carolina’s 7 kickoffs, as McCluster repeatedly failed to reach the 20 when taking the ball out from the end zone.
  • Mariota was finally sacked midway through the fourth quarter, his first of the post Ken-Whisenhunt era. One sack in eight quarters. Carolina and New Orleans aren’t the best pass rushes, but that doesn’t happen with Whisenhunt’s protections. Of course, today’s ineptitude was probably part of the tradeoff for better protection, but you can’t have everything.
  • Panthers TE Gregg Olsen caught 8 passes on 8 targets for 80 yards.
  • Michael Griffin, Brian Orakpo, Daimion Stafford (good blitz design), Wesley Woodyard, and half-split David Bass and Avery Williamson had the Titans sacks. Jurrell Casey was Jurrell Casey, but this was really a team and schemed pass rush effort.
  • Al Woods went out late with a knee injury.
  • The Panthers had a punt return touchdown that would have made it 21-10 in the second quarter called back for a block in the back that likely had no effect on the play.
  • The Titans did not return any punts today, so even with Brett Kern booming things from deep they lose the punting battle as well.
  • Mularkey had a couple interesting penalty decisions. He accepted a 5-yard penalty that made it third-and-7 instead of fourth-and-1 when the Panthers would very likely have gone for it (at the TEN23). That decision did not work out, as Carolina converted. He also put the Panthers in second-and-21 from the Titans 29 instead of third-and-10 from the Titans 18. That series ended in a field goal. I have no issue with either decision, but thought they were interesting enough to mention.
  • This is the worst week of the year, with a Thursday game, on the road, after a loss, against a Jacksonville team that came back and won at the gun today, and they’ll probably need to make a roster move to add another wide receiver unless Kendall Wright returns.
  • One more injury: Blidi Wreh-Wilson aggravated his hamstring injury (maybe) and missed I believe all of the second half.

Snap report Monday.