For a long time, it was there for the taking.
Yes, it had been an ugly game on both sides.
Yes, the Titans got off to a slow start. We’ve seen this movie all too many times.
This time they could not recover. It became a costly 12-7 loss to what was an ordinary 5-7 Arizona Cardinals team.
Jacksonville won Sunday and if the season ends today, the Jaguars would be the third seed in the post-season playoffs.
Barring a miracle, the Titans will be sitting home for the playoffs.
Their offense was exotic all right. But it was exotic mistake after exotic mistake.
The Titans earned the loss. They won’t get over this one anytime soon.
Third-year quarterback Marcus Mariota gave the Cardinals an early Christmas present.
He knew he could ill afford to make turnovers if his team could make the playoffs.
He knew it. He even talked to those who televised the game the night before. They sensed he was worried about taking care of the football. This is three seasons Mariota has had trouble in the passing game. Obviously it is in his head.
“Frustration is an understatement,’’ he told reporters. “I’ve got to stop hurting this team.’’
He came into the game ranked No. 22 in passing. He is averaging 7.37 yards a completion. His latest QB rating was 80.4. In comparison Cardinals QB Blaine Gabbert’s QB rating is 79.8. He is ranked No. 33 in passing in NFL statistics.
This Titans team had won six of its last seven games. But there were few who truly believed they have what it takes to be a team that opponents fear. They had too many holes in their game.
When the Titans needed to complete the long ball, Mariota could not deliver. The lone points Sunday were compliments of a Derrick Henry run in the first half.
In that half, Mariota was 10 of 15 for 99 yards, less than10 yards a completion. He was sacked twice, losing 12 yards.
The only reason it was close was the Titans defense, one that got six sacks on Gabbert, a quarterback that has to pay admission to visit the NFL Hall of Fame.
A week ago the transplanted Los Angeles Rams rang up 32 points on the Rams, who were held to 16.
And yet the Titans could score only seven points Sunday, giving up 12.
And what was Titans Coach Mike Mularkey thinking when his team was trailing 12-7 with 3:45 left in the game? A field goal would do no good.
The Titans final possession started on their 22-yard line. Mariota’s first down pass sailed over the head of his receiver. Second down produced another incomplete pass when it hit the ground to DeMarcus Murray.
There was 2:16 left in the game, Titans fourth and 18 at their 29-yard line. What did Mularkey do? They needed a touchdown to win. This shows how much faith he had in Mariota completing the long ball. Mularkey punted the ball away.
There went any chance the Titans might have had.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports analyst. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.