A team that prides itself on finishing strong and pulling out games in the fourth quarter hasn’t been doing so this season.
That is just one of the crucial factors that helps to explain why the Tennessee Titans are off to an 0-3 start in 2009 and heading into Sunday’s game at Jacksonville.
For an offense that has played relatively well at times – sixth in rushing, 20th in passing and 11th overall through three games – its fourth-quarter shortcomings are difficult to fathom.
But nonetheless, they are there and help explain why Tennessee is winless through three games.
In 2008, the fourth quarter was the Titans’ strongest offensive quarter by points, as Tennessee scored 123 in the final 15 minutes of games last year. This year, through three games, the Titans have only Rob Bironas’ 45-yard field goal with 11:08 to play in regulation at Pittsburgh to show for their fourth-quarter efforts this year.
Quarterback Kerry Collins’ numbers in the final period are drastically different from a year ago, as he has completed just 8 of 24 fourth quarter passes for 77 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His fourth-quarter passer rating is 25.9.
Last week, against the Jets, the Titans had zero passing yards in the final period, with the interception and several dropped passes contributing to the struggles.
Last year, Collins was the AFC’s fourth-best passer in the fourth quarter, completing 47 of 83 fourth-quarter passes throws for 589 yards with three TDs, no picks and a passer rating of 90.9.
“I sort of take my responsibility. I threw an interception last week and not making some plays in the last two weeks. I think a lot of that falls on my shoulders,” Collins said. “It’s very important. A lot of games come down to the fourth quarter and making plays in the fourth quarter. We haven’t done that. It’s not something we’re concerned about, but there are some things we can definitely do better to play a more complete game.”
And while Collins, as most starting quarterbacks will do, puts the burden on himself, there is plenty of culpability to go around.
Coach Jeff Fisher at his Monday press conference announced that he counted five second-half drops in the loss to the New York Jets.
The running game has been hit and miss, with 104 yards in the fourth quarter through three weeks. And while that number might look respectable on the surface, 73 of those yards came last week against the Jets, and 30 of that 73 came on one Chris Johnson run.
“We’ve taken turns making mistakes at the end of the game. It’s hurt us. That’s why we’ve lost,” guard Jake Scott said. “We’ve had the ball in all three games, late in the third quarter and sometimes in the fourth quarter with a chance to drive and win it, and we haven’t gotten it done yet. It’s on us to start turning that around.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has taken notice of the shortcomings, and says circumstances of being behind and having to try and come back in the final quarter has taken a toll. Tennessee led only Pittsburgh, 10-7, on the Bironas field goal, in the fourth quarter.
“Last year at this time, we were ahead in all those games, instead of being behind and having to win, and that makes a difference, if you don’t have to throw every down to win,” Heimerdinger said. “As long as the game is close, we can run it and do some things we need to do. Even last week I the fourth quarter, we were running OK, and we get a loss on a run, and that puts us back to second-and-12.”
The Titans have had their chances, but sometimes needing to pull a game out with a fourth-quarter comeback can be one of the most difficult things to do on offense. After all, there’s a reason that fourth-quarter masters of the comeback like John Elway and Joe Montana are regarded among the greatest players of all time.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest things to do,” receiver Nate Washington said. “The defense knows you’re throwing the ball. A lot of times in that series of plays, there are only a certain amount of plays you’re going to be able to run. When you run those same plays a couple of times, you just have to be better with your technique and consistency.”
Mistakes can be even more glaring under such circumstances, but that in itself is not an excuse Heimerdinger is willing to tolerate.
“We’re making mistakes we shouldn’t make. We had two missed assignments against Pittsburgh in key situations,” Heimerdinger said. “We dropped some balls last week that would have turned the momentum back around and put ourselves in situations where last week, where they were bringing the blitz because we didn’t make any plays against the blitz. … We’ve got to stop stopping ourselves. We need somebody to make a play.”