Offensive woes doom Titans in playoff loss

Monday, January 7, 2008 at 1:02am

SAN DIEGO — As the rain fell periodically through Qualcomm Stadium Sunday, it was another offensive drought that helped doom the Tennessee Titans in a 17-6 AFC Wild-Card loss to the San Diego Chargers.

The Titans produced just two first-half field goals from Rob Bironas, and defense that had held the Chargers at bay through two quarters finally broke under three second-half scoring drives that sent San Diego to its first playoff victory since 1994 and on to Indianapolis for next week’s divisional playoffs.

As for the Titans, their season ends with the accomplishment of making the postseason for the first time in four years, but with many of the same offensive problems that plagued the team throughout 2007.

When opportunities to score and perhaps even put the Chargers away early came, the Titans could not cash in. And by not cashing in, the Titans instead bow out of the postseason.

“Our biggest thing was settling for field goals, instead of touchdowns. That’s something that has been plaguing us all season, and it came and got us today,” receiver Justin Gage said.

The Titans, playing without four offensive starters, hung in as a 10-point underdog for much of the game and even built a 6-0 halftime lead with a pair of Bironas field goals. But once the Chargers responded in the second half with 10 third-quarter points and a clinching fourth-quarter touchdown, the Titans had no answers and no chance of advancing in the playoffs.

“We played great in the first half and decent in the second half,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “But we just never responded. When they were able to move and make something happen in the second half, we were just never able to respond.

“We didn’t make enough plays. We needed to score. We needed to respond. They would make a move, and we needed to respond. It was kind of like a long chess game. I don’t think we did a good job of responding. We broke down in coverage three or four crucial times. That is the end result, 17-6.”

The Titans took a 3-0 lead in the rain on their first series of the game, marching 61 yards in 13 plays with Vince Young getting a key 16-yard pass to fullback Ahmard Hall on the third play of the game for a first down.

The Titans reached the San Diego 12 on the drive before settling for a Bironas 30-yard field goal.

Tennessee’s early dominance was evident as the Titans put up seven first downs in the first quarter and held the Chargers to no first downs in the period.

The Titans had a chance to deliver a crushing blow early in the second quarter, methodically marching into the red zone a second time. But when Chris Brown fumbled on a hit by Shawne Merriman and the Chargers’ Shaun Phillips recovered at the 9-yard line, it ended the threat.

Tennessee’s defense continued to be up to the challenge, holding All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson to just six first-half yards (42 for the game) and turning away a pair of Charger scoring chances to preserve the first-half shutout. Cortland Finnegan had an end zone interception on a deep pass from Philip Rivers, and Nate Kaeding missed a 45-yard field goal try in the second quarter.

Tennessee was even able to tack on three more points before halftime on Bironas’ 44-yard field goal at the end of the half.

But that play would be the final hurrah of the Titans’ season, as the Chargers began to assert themselves behind the passing of Rivers and the receiving of Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers in the second half.

San Diego finally got on the scoreboard when Kaeding connected on a 20-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half.

The Chargers followed that with a touchdown drive to take the lead on their next possession. That series was greatly aided by two penalties on Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who ran offside and decked Rivers before the ball was snapped. It gave San Diego the ball at the Titans’ 29, and shortly thereafter, Rivers and Jackson connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass, putting the Chargers in front 10-6.

“You don’t want that to happen, especially when you’ve been playing six years like I have,” Haynesworth said of his two infractions. “It was just a mental letdown. I was just trying to make a play.

“It was a hard count, and he kind of squatted down a little bit, so it looked like he was getting ready to go. I was trying to jump the gap.”

The Titans tried to answer on their next drive and drove as far as the Chargers’ 17 before calling on Bironas again to bail them out. Only this time, the Pro Bowl kicker pulled the ball wide left, and the Titans were left with nothing to show for the nine-play, 54-yard march.

“I didn’t get the best line on it,” Bironas said. “The ref was holding the ball to keep the rain off it and keep it dry. The clock was ticking down. I probably rushed my steps a little bit, and it didn’t feel right.”

That miss came with 14:03 to play, and from there, the Chargers delivered the knockout blow. It came via a 1-yard fourth-and-goal run from Tomlinson, but was set up by a 39-yard pass from Rivers to Chambers that set up first-and-goal at the 8.

“We had a coverage problem that allowed them to get the big gain, but I thought beyond that, our defense played their hearts out,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

“We broke down three or four times,” Bulluck said. “We wanted Philip Rivers to be the one to beat us, and he did a good job of that. Any time you leave people wide open, any quarterback in this league is going to hit them.”

Rivers finished 19 of 30 for 292 yards passing.

For the Titans, the offseason begins, and they hope to fix the shortcomings of Sunday and the 2007 season for the next time the playoffs come around.

“Those are the kinds of things we’ve got to learn how to do as a team. We’ve made it so far over the past couple of years, but we’re just continuing our education right now,” tight end Ben Hartsock said.

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By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This team should be a candidate for "Ripleys Believe it or Not". The fact that this team won 10 games with an offense built around a field goal kicker should make them a shoo-in.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thank you Tennessee Titans for a great season! You opened the door,now kick it in! I see you in the playoffs for years to come and winning a Super Bowl in the near future! Thank you coach Fisher for staying with the Titans!

By: tytanz27 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Where to begin? This team definitely needs some more playmakers on offense. Where was Justin Gage today? As much as I hate to admit it this team could have used pacman all year! I guess VY played alright,especially with a bum leg. But at times this offense looked better with Kerry at QB. The Defense was awesome all year. Especially Cortland Finnegan. I'm not sure Albert will play the same once he gets his money .Whether it's with us or someone else. I gotta give Lendale his props. Great year. Oh, can we finally put Chris Brown to bed!! WTF. Nice Fumbles!! No wonder he always stayed in Fischer's dog house. Maybe we can trade for Chad Johnson. Although the last Bengal WR we brought in flopped( Carl Pickens) Any way not bad for a team whose FG Kicker was its' MVP.

By: jwk6179 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The worse thing about this lose is we are going to have to listen to that NO-TALENT IDIOT, Darren McFarland, whine for the next three weeks about how classless the Chargers are and about what thugs they are because the ended the Titans season, just like he did last year with the Patriots when they ended the Titans season.

By: Cowboy84 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This is the only stat you need to know, three trips inside the 20 and ZERO throws into the end zone. You can't score TDs if you don't try and they didn't try yesterday, they were very content to try to run the ball and settle for field goals.Norm Chow and his staff have had three years to get this offense into shape and the haven't. They throw the ball to the outside and the with receiver usually standing there waiting for the ball instead of the WR moving so he can do something with the ball after the catch. The only throw VY made in the middle of the field was picked off, if VY can't make those throws, that takes away a huge chunk of the field. I have agree with what Ron Jaworski said, the Titans offensive meetings must be pretty short since they only run about 5 plays. I also feel sorry for the D, any team that holds LT for 42 yards should win, but you can't if your O is scared of the endzone and is content with FGs. Just heard Wychek talking about how great a job Chow has done this year, has he been watching the games?!

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Good call as usual, cowboy84. Just don't be so quick to lay the blame on Chow. It's hard to make a call when your boss won't let you use the phone. Another year, yet another season at the bottom of the league in red zone production. These guys should be proud of how far they got with our nine year old, predictable offense.

By: Socrates on 12/31/69 at 6:00

TitansRLosers, with your attempt at spin, you should contact Hillary Clinton's campaign management because they cannot handle the truth any better than you.Even though The LOSERVILLE LOSERS where given their berth in the playoffs they and their fans have lived up to their moniker - "LOSERS" that call LOSERVILLE, USA home.And it will remain that way until YOU, the citizens of LOSERVILLE, USA determine to accept nothing less than CHAMPIONS. Of course, based on your school system, your high crime rate, your tolerance as a SANCTUARY CITY, etc. it appears that as a community you are very comfortable as LOSERS in LOSERVILLE, USA!

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Very enlightening post, Socrates, and so eloquently stated to boot. I, for one, didn't realize that so much insight to an entire community and it's citizens could be derived from an entertainment venue.

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'll have what he is having. :)

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What are you trying to say, Socrates?