CINCINNATI — Look out below!
The Tennessee Titans continued their rapid descent out of contention and toward the bottom of the AFC South with an embarrassing 35-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Tennessee dropped to 6-5 with the defeat and, just like losses the weeks before to Jacksonville and Denver, never led in the game. Instead, the Titans wound up with another double-digit defeat as they continue a free fall that threatens to take a team on the cusp of a playoff berth three weeks ago farther down the ladder in the postseason pecking order.
“I certainly didn’t see that coming,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “During the week, I thought we rebounded fairly well from the Monday night loss [in Denver]. I thought they were ready to play. I really don’t have many answers for you at this point.”
The Titans will have to find answers quickly, as the 8-3 Jaguars are disappearing over the wild-card horizon, and even the Cleveland Browns sped past Tennessee Sunday by improving to 7-4.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defense continued its struggles Sunday without Albert Haynesworth, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury. Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer completed 32 of 38 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns to Chad Johnson, who doubled his season output in scores and wound up with 12 catches for 103 yards. The touchdown hat trick marked Johnson’s first touchdowns in eight weeks.
Tennessee’s defense was completely shredded, and it showed most on third down as the Bengals converted on 12 of their first 15 third-down tries (14 of 18 overall) and did not punt until the 6:10 mark of the fourth quarter.
“We got whooped,” cornerback Nick Harper said. “They were in our huddle and knew what we were running before we did. They studied us well. They had a good game plan for what we do. Nothing worked.”
Nothing worked for the Titans on offense either, as Tennessee converted just 2 of 10 third-down tries. Still, the Titans had their chances to stay close, but five trips into the red zone produced just two Rob Bironas field goals. The Titans lost a lost fumble on a strip of Vince Young inside the 10, and turned the ball over twice on downs in the red zone.
In the process, the Titans wasted a 73-yard pass from Vince Young to Justin Gage and a 46-yard Young-to-Eric Moulds completion, getting no points from either drive.
Later, after replay overturned a Chris Brown touchdown, placing the ball at the 1, the Titans’ completely inept red zone offense couldn’t punch it in with two more chances. Brown was stuffed for no gain on third down, then a ragged fourth-down pass was deflected in the end zone and fell incomplete.
“It was very frustrating. It was ugly out there,” Brown said. “We moved the ball down the field, but once again we couldn’t put it in the end zone and kept turning the ball over. We got away with it the first half of the season, but we can’t do it the second half. … We have to go out there these last five games and make a statement if we want to be in the postseason. It starts next week.”
The Titans host the Houston Texans next week at LP Field as they attempt to regroup in time to salvage something of a promising 6-2 start that has suddenly gone horribly wrong.
“You go 6-2 the first half to give yourself some cushion for the second half. Well, our cushion is gone. We don’t have a cushion any longer,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
With that cushion gone and three lopsided losses in as many games, it could be a bumpy ride.