With the game on the line and Marcus Mariota under center, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt put the ball in a fullback’s hands.
He got stuffed. Game over.
After Jalston Fowler scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to get Tennessee within 35-33 against Indianapolis in the final minute on Sunday, the Titans ran the same play for the 2-point conversion.
But this time Colts linebacker Bjoern Werner shut the hole up the middle and forced Fowler to turn around and look for space elsewhere. He ended up being tackled at the 16.
“If it works, it’s a good call. If it doesn’t, it’s not,” Whisenhunt said. “We felt confident in the play. We felt confident in the guy running it. That’s why we ran. It’s a play where we are trying to establish our identity there, that we are a physical football team and we know that we can get it in. And we didn’t.”
The play wasn’t Whisenhunt’s first choice when the Titans lined up to go from the 2-yard line. A pass interference on the Colts moved the ball up to the 1, so Whisenhunt then chose to run instead of letting Mariota throw or give him a rollout option.
Mariota is the franchise quarterback, a guy who has eight TD passes in his first three games, a 109.2 passer rating, and the ability to scramble. Fowler is a rookie with five carries in three games.
Who do you want handling the football in a critical spot?
It’s understandable that Whisenhunt wants his team to play tough and prove it can pound it on the ground to get an important yard. But the final minute of a game isn’t the right time for a team to “establish” its identity. Do that in the first quarter.
“I thought that was a great call,” left guard Byron Bell. “I thought it was a phenomenal call. That’s what you want to run down there. We just have to win at the line of scrimmage. At the end of the day, we have to get in there, and we didn’t.”
Other questionable calls from Week 3:
CATCH OR NOT: Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert had a 1-yard TD catch against Baltimore overturned late in the second quarter after a replay determined he didn’t complete the play. Eifert crossed the end zone with the ball, but it was knocked loose before he hit the ground.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, supported the reversal on Monday.
“He’s hit just as his second foot hits the ground. To become a runner you got to have the ball longer than two feet down, you got to have to have the ball long enough to do something with it, avoid contact, ward off an opponent,” Blandino said. “And if it’s all that one action and he’s going to the ground, even if he reaches, the requirement is to hold on to the ball when he lands and he didn’t, and that’s what made it incomplete.”
Despite losing the TD, the Bengals beat Baltimore 28-24.
RISKY BUSINESS: Maybe the Ravens should run all their plays as if it’s fourth down. Early in the second quarter, they lined up for a punt on fourth-and-3 only to have upback Anthony Levine take the snap and run. Levine gained 2 yards and fumbled, but grabbed the loose ball and made the first down.
On fourth-and-5 in the third quarter, coach John Harbaugh kept his offense on the field. Joe Flacco connected with Steve Smith down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown, cutting Cincinnati’s lead to 14-7.
GOING DEEP: Critics have been questioning Peyton Manning’s arm strength since the final games of last season. Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Lions 45 late in the first half, Manning showed he’s still got plenty left. He fired a 45-yard TD pass to Demaryius Thomas to give Denver a 14-6 lead; the Broncos went on to win 24-12.
“We called a play expecting blitz and ended up getting a blitz, a zone blitz,” Manning said, explaining Emmanuel Sanders was his first option on the play. “I caught the corner (Darius Slay) squatting a little bit, and DT was able to get behind him. But I was looking to Emmanuel first, so I was kind of late going to DT because I wanted just to get the first down, and DT made a great play and was able to get into the end zone.”
FISHER’S TRICKS: The Rams were trailing Pittsburgh 9-0 in the second quarter when coach Jeff Fisher called for a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from the Steelers 48. Stedman Bailey was wide open, but punter Johnny Hekker’s pass bounced. It didn’t cost St. Louis because Janoris Jenkins intercepted Ben Roethlisberger two plays later.
Fisher isn’t afraid to resort to trickery. He called for a fake on fourth-and-3 from the Rams 18 late in the fourth quarter of an upset win over Seattle last year. Hekker completed that pass and St. Louis ran out the clock.