NFL: Questionable Play Calling Costs Tennessee Titans Golden Opportunity

Chad Minton@@chad_mintonCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2011

Matt Hasselbeck had a solid debut, but Chris Johnson was a non-factor in the loss.
Matt Hasselbeck had a solid debut, but Chris Johnson was a non-factor in the loss.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In a season when the AFC South is more wide open than ever, the Tennessee Titans left a golden opportunity on the table by losing 16-14 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Titans couldn't have started the first game of the 2011 season any slower, but the Titans still had a great chance to win at the end if not for questionable play calling on offense to close out the game.

Trailing 16-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Titans drove the ball 80 yards down the field with the drive capped off by a touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt.

The problem was that the drive ate too much time off the clock thanks to untimely running plays that led to little or no gains.

After getting the ball to Jacksonville 16-yard-line with around half of the fourth quarter remaining, the Titans elected to run the ball four-straight times instead of going for the quick strike.

This bad clock management put a vertically challenged Titans offense back against the wall even after scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to two.

If the Titans had mixed in a few more pass plays, more time would have been conserved and the worst-case scenario would have been a field goal attempt to cut the lead to one possession anyway.

Sure, a touchdown is always better than a field goal, but you can't allow all that time to tick away with four running plays that close to the end zone. Once valuable seconds are gone, they're gone for good. You have to conserve all the time you can when it's a two-possession game.

Due to the poor clock management on that drive, the Titans got the ball back with just 1:45 left on the clock and just one timeout.

The Titans passing game actually came alive on this possession as Hasselbeck completed four passes in a row and had the ball all the way to the Titans 46-yard line.

This left the Titans around 15 yards outside of Rob Bironas's monster field goal range that extends all the way out to 60 yards. Ideally, the Titans would have wanted to get the ball to around the 35-yard line for a high-percentage chance of Bironas being accurate.

Twenty-three seconds remained on the clock, enough time for at least two more plays to get Bironas in range.

Instead of sticking to what was working, Hasselbeck decided go deep to Britt around the Jacksonville 20-yard-line, and sure enough, it ended in an interception.

Why Hasselbeck is attempting to make a throw to a player that he has had little time to build chemistry with is beyond simple logic. That's the kind of pass that's easy for Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, but not two players who have only been playing with each other for a few weeks.

Even after connecting with Britt for two touchdowns earlier in the game, with one of those being somewhat of a fluke play, you still don't take that risk unless absolutely necessary.

However, it really goes back to the possession before that when the Titans let second after second tick off knowing that they were going to have to make another drive. That falls on the coaching staff, not Hasselbeck.

Hasselbeck was just trying to make a huge play at the end, and he's made that play plenty of times in his career. Still, if the Titans had managed the clock better on the previous drive, then Hasselbeck would have had no reason to rush a throw into double coverage.

There are still a lot of reasons to have hope in this team after this tough loss a division opponent.

Chris Johnson virtually had no impact on the game, and yet the Titans still had a chance to win. Johnson finished with 24 yards rushing.

Johnson's poor showing was probably a result of him refusing to be in training camp until he got his big payday, but that's an issue for another time.

In fact, the Titans had no rushing game the entire day, and Hasselbeck still found ways to be effective. That's a good sign heading forward.

Hopefully these are growing pains that this new coaching staff will work through, because the division is still wide open and the Titans actually have a chance at this thing.

Titans Top Performers

  • Matt Hasselbeck-21/34, 263 yards, 2 TD, 93.1 QB Rating
  • Kenny Britt- 5 receptions, 136 yards, 2 TD
  • Barrett Ruud-14 tackles, 8 solo tackles

Titans Under-Performers

  • Chris Johnson- 9 rushes, 24 yards, 2.7 average
  • Damian Williams- 1 reception, 5 yards

Check out the AFC South recap!


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