NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans handled the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak during the season in winning fashion.
Now the Titans face another issue threatening their season: themselves.
The team that won its first five games during a stretch when Tennessee had two games rescheduled by that COVID-19 outbreak has lost three of the last four. The Titans’ 34-17 loss to Indianapolis on Thursday night cost them the top spot in the AFC South.
Injuries and mistakes keep cropping up across the board.
“No excuses,” Titans running back Derrick Henry said. “Just we have to be better as a team. We know that. We need to fix the mistakes.”
The Titans (6-3) couldn’t protect a 17-13 halftime lead. Coach Mike Vrabel says he doesn’t think wholesale changes are the answer. He ticked off playing better, healing up and fixing mistakes as the keys Friday.
The Titans get a rematch with the Colts on Nov. 29 in Indianapolis. The rest of the schedule provides no help, with five of their final seven games on the road.
“No matter where we play we’re just going to have to play better,” Vrabel said. “We’re going to have to coach better and be ready to get going. We’re in this thing, but (we’re) going to have to win games.”
The defense. Yes, a unit that gave up 430 yards to the Colts is showing signs of improvement. The Titans have gotten four sacks in two games, including one against the Colts’ very stingy offensive line. They’ve had big fourth-down stops, including on the Colts’ opening drive of the third quarter backed up at the Tennessee 1.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense wins in a coin flip over special teams. The Titans scored at least 31 points in four straight games. But they haven’t topped 24 now in the last four games, three of those losses. After the defense turned the Colts over on downs at the Tennessee 1, the Titans managed only 28 yards in the third quarter.
Henry got the Titans out to the 20 with three straight runs. But Ryan Tannehill was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third-and-1 before Trevor Daniel shanked a 17-yard punt. They also went three-and-out on the next drive before Daniel’s punt was blocked and returned for a Colts’ TD.
They’ve been held to 294 yards or less on offense in each loss, and receivers have had too many dropped passes. A.J. Brown had a defender beaten down the sideline Thursday night and couldn’t haul in a Tannehill pass.
Jadeveon Clowney. No, the highly paid linebacker is still looking for his first sack of the season. But he played 52 of 70 defensive snaps after not being able to practice last week or play last weekend because of an injured knee. Clowney had four tackles, with a tackle for loss.
Tie between punters Ryan Allen and Trevor Daniel and four-time Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Allen was benched after one game for Daniel, who the Titans signed Nov. 7 to the practice squad. Daniel worked out for Tennessee after delivering packages for FedEx. No matter who punts next, the Titans must block better.
Gostkowski now is 12 of 20 on field goals after missing a 44-yarder wide right in the fourth quarter. He’s made a career-high six field goals from 50 yards or longer, going 6 of 7 in that range but is just 2 of 7 between 40 and 49 yards.
“We’re going to have to continue to evaluate that and see what our options are and make a decision,” Vrabel said.
Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan already is out with a torn ACL. Now the rest of the line is aching.
LG Rodger Saffold had been nursing an injured shoulder that knocked him out of last week’s game with Chicago, and he finished the Colts game after hurting an ankle. C Ben Jones injured his knee but also finished the game. RT Dennis Kelly has been on the injury report with his own injured knee.
0 — The Titans didn’t turn over the ball against the Colts, the sixth game this season without a giveaway. They also didn’t force a turnover even as they lead the NFL with a plus-10 turnover margin.
First, a couple days off, then get busy making corrections. The Titans have a crucial two-game road swing starting Nov. 22 at Baltimore before that trip to Indianapolis.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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