What. A. Disaster. If it could go wrong it did go wrong for the Titans as they opened the Mike Vrabel era with a 27-20 loss to the Dolphins in Miami. Believe it or not there were some winners in what was among the most depressing Titans games of my lifetime (which is saying something).
Despite all the miserableness surrounding this game, it’s hard not to feel good for Jennings who had a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown to give the Titans some hope late in the game. It was the first kickoff Tennessee has returned for a touchdown since Darius Reynaud in 2012.
Dennis Kelly, Kevin Pamphile, and the offensive line
Kelly got the start in place of Jack Conklin and largely went unnoticed which is a great thing for an offensive lineman. Pamphile stepped in for the injured Taylor Lewan and played well too. Overall, the offensive line did a nice job, allowing no sacks and helping the backs to 4 yards per carry (which would have been much more had Henry’s long touchdown run not been called back for a phantom hold).
Lewis’ debut went exceedingly well as the Titans offseason addition rushed 16 times for 76 yards and a touchdown, adding 5 catches for 35 yards through the air. That included a few clutch 3rd down pickups. Lewis looked every bit the dynamic playmaker that he Titans need him to be moving forward.
Davis led the Titans with 6 catches for 62 yards and regularly looked like the team’s best receiver. There was one miscommunication issue, but he otherwise appeared to be in sync with Mariota.
Let’s just start here. Mariota started pretty good, but fell apart before leaving with an elbow injury during the second half. His first half numbers weren’t bad, but they didn’t tell the whole story. Mariota underthrew a wide open Luke Stocker who would’ve scored if not for the ball placement, then later in the drive threw behind Corey Davis on a speed out on 4th and goal. Again, the pass was complete, but Davis scores with ease if the ball is accurate.
It wasn’t all bad from Mariota early, but those two throws cost them 7. Things would get worse for the Titans signal caller as a hit from William Hayes after a Mariota handoff left him with an elbow injury. He tried to play through it, but threw back to back interceptions — one on a pass floated over Rishard Matthews and one on a poorly thrown screen pass to Dion Lewis — before giving way to Blaine Gabbert who would finish the game. We don’t know what Mariota’s injury is, but the Titans are obviously in huge trouble if he’s not ready to go for the home opener against Houston next week.
Beyond Mariota, Taylor Lewan (concussion) and Delanie Walker (leg) both left with injuries. Walker’s leg injury was ugly and he’s probably done for the foreseeable future — if not the entire season — which is obviously a huge blow to the Titans offense.
Lewan’s injury was suffered on a cheap shot from Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch after the first Mariota interception. Of course no flag was thrown on Branch, because... reasons.
Adoree’ Jackson also suffered a shoulder injury at the end of a nice punt return, though he did return to the game later on. Again, we don’t know the severity of Jackson’s injury, but he will likely be on the injury report for most of this week.
I’m not sure what it is about Miami, but the Titans have been absolutely hosed by refs there the last two years. Last season it was the ridiculous offensive pass interference call and the “fumble” that just happened to fly 20 yards down field that was later returned by the Dolphins for a touchdown while they had at least 13 players on the field.
This year it was a bogus unnecessary roughness call against Malcolm Butler and a completely absurd holding call against Delanie Walker that negated a long Derrick Henry touchdown run (while Walker got facemasked). The Mariota injury also came on questionable (at best) non-call as he was hit low and late while carrying out a play fake.
Titans fans got treated to the longest, most depressing game in Titans history today. Multiple weather delays, injuries to the team’s best players on offense, and another losing round of penalty roulette made this one to forget. It’s an unfortunate way to kick the Mike Vrabel era off and I’d expect it will make for a rather lackluster crowd for the home opener next Sunday. It’s hard to imagine a more deflating start to a season.
For all the good intentions about keeping players healthy and fresh to start the season, Week 1 was a stark reminder that injuries will come no matter how careful you are.
Vrabel’s careful approach also showed up early in another way. The Titans tackling was horrific during the first half. They settled down a little bit later in the game, but it looked like a team that hadn’t had many reps with live tackling in the approach to the season.
Additionally, there were a few questionable game management decisions from the Titans new coach. I liked the decision to go for it on 4th and goal early even though the execution let him down there. However, the Titans squandered many of their timeouts, including using one on defense on a 3rd and 21 late in the 4th quarter when they were trying to mount a comeback. It was a debut to forget for Vrabel.