It’s a well-worn axiom that quitters never win.
So at a time when – in some ways – it looks as if the Tennessee Titans might never win again, coach Jeff Fisher can’t get away from questions about his team’s effort in Sunday’s 17-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I was asked several times, ‘Did your team quit?’” Fisher said Monday. “This team didn’t quit. They didn’t give up a point in the second half. They got a fourth-down stop; they blocked a field goal. They played hard, we just didn’t make the plays.”
Quantifying effort is virtually impossible, which makes it difficult gauge the accuracy of Fisher’s assessment, even though his team has lost its last five.
Other problems, though, are much more easily identifiable.
Time of possession. Turnovers. Rushing offense and defense. Third down offense and defense.
Any one of them increases the challenge of getting a victory. All of them at once makes it virtually impossible, as the Titans have shown.
“Our issues are team-related issues,” Fisher said. “Right now the number-one concern of mine is time of possession. We’re last in the league in time of possession, and it’s uncharacteristic of us to be last in the league. The team’s contributing to that.
“It’s not just the offense and our inability to convert third downs or defense and its inability to get off the field on third down. It’s the turnovers – we’ve turned the ball over in the last five weeks much more than we did in the first and we’re not getting our turnovers. We have to get the football back; we have to protect it and we have to improve in both areas on third down. A lot of that starts with the run game.”
The Titans have come up short on time of possession in each of the last six games. The first of those was a 37-19 victory over Philadelphia in which the offense produced an unusual number of big plays and scored quickly, and the defense scored one touchdown of its own.
Since then, every opponent has run the ball more often than Tennessee and has had a significant edge in time of possession, none more so than Jacksonville. The Jaguars ran it 53 times, 35 by Maurice Jones-Drew, and held the ball nearly twice as long as the Titans (39:54-20:06).
“These guys are trying to get the ball carriers down,” Fisher said “… They’re hustling to the ball. We certainly weren’t equipped to defend the run 53 times, considering the status of the defense and the number of plays we’ve played over the last month. I don’t think anybody is against that offense.”
Yet the Titans are equipped to run it themselves with running back Chris Johnson and an offensive line that was considered a strength at the start of the year. Johnson has carried the ball just 20 times in the last two games.
“We’re not getting the carries,” Fisher said. “If we convert on third down or get a turnover we’ll get the carries.”
It’s like a scavenger hunt. Uncover something and it just leads you to something else.
Tennessee has converted fewer than one-third of its third-down attempts in every game during the losing streak capped by a season-low 18 percent (2-for-11) against Jacksonville.
The defense has not created a turnover in either of the last two games and no more than one in any of the last five. Over the last four weeks the Titans’ turnover ratio is minus-8.
The good news is that there’s every reason to believe the Titans actually will win again. This is the fifth time in the last seven years they have had a streak of at least that length during the season.
Always, they eventually won again. Yet they did not make the playoffs in any of those years.
“I think the key here is that we don’t go in with the mindset that we can’t afford to make a single mistake or else,” Fisher said. “ … You just have to relax and have fun and play hard.”
In other words, don’t quit.
• With the next game set for Thursday, the Titans had a walk-through Monday afternoon and released an official injury report.
Notable in that he was not included on that report was wide receiver Kenny Britt, whio has missed virtually all of the last five games with a hamstring injury.
In all, six players were listed, including five defensive linemen – Dave Ball (hip), Tony Brown (knee), Jacob Ford (knee), Jason Jones (shoulder) and Sen’Derrick Marks (ankle). Ford and Jones participated on a limited basis. The others were not involved.
• Cortland Finnegan was named the Titans’ 2010 Community Man of the Year.