The Tennessee Titans may have left their playoff hopes in San Francisco on Sunday.
A crushing 25-23 loss to the 49ers gave the Titans their second straight defeat against an NFC West opponent with a losing record, and now has them needing to win at least one and may be both their final two games against division leader to slip into the playoffs.
“We have a chance to still get in the playoffs,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “We have to win at home the two games that we have. We have to win the first one first. That’ll be all the talk about is winning that first one at home.”
As of now, the Titans remain the fifth seed in the AFC playoff picture, but now have the same record as both Buffalo and Baltimore, and Tennessee’s once comfortable margin for error is now gone after a disastrous two-week road trip.
Two weeks ago, before this Western jaunt, the postseason seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Titans, who led the AFC South at 8-4. Now, at 8-6 following Sunday’s loss on the heels of a defeat in Arizona, the Titans have to regroup against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars just to scramble into the postseason.
The Titans had their chances Sunday in San Francisco, but left too much time on the clock, allowing Jimmy Garoppolo to rally the 49ers into range for Robbie Gould’s sixth field goal of the game as time expired.
Tennessee fell into a 16-3 hole in the first half with the offense looking much like it did the week before in Arizona when the Titans managed just seven points.
But just before halftime, the Titans went into their rarely used no-huddle offense, and it provided a needed spark. Marcus Mariota, who had struggled against the Cardinals, found a rhythm and marched the Titans to the end zone, going 79 yards in six plays and needing just 1:08 to do so. Mariota’s 4-yard pass to Delanie Walker capped the drive and cut the lead to 16-10 at the half.
The Titans stayed in the hurry-up offense to open the third quarter and got a Ryan Succop field goal to get closer at 16-13, before taking their first lead when Mariota hit Rishard Matthews with an 8-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter to make the score 20-16.
Mariota found his groove in the game, playing turnover-free football, connecting on 23 of 33 throws for 241 yards and two touchdowns.
San Francisco, led by Garoppolo, who scorched the Titans for 381 yards on 31 of 43 passes, answered with two more Gould field goal to take a 22-19 lead.
Tennessee took the lead back on Succop’s 50-yard kick with 1:07 to play, though even that rive had controversy attached to it. On third-and-2 from the San Francisco 33-yard line, the Titans got conservative and called a running play to DeMarco Murray, which was promptly stuffed. The Titans got the Succop kick to momentarily grab the lead, but the first down would have allowed Tennessee to not only have a go-ahead field goal try, but also run the clock out.
Instead, Garoppolo got the ball back, continued to burn the Titans secondary for big plays to his group of unheralded receivers and got the 49ers down the field for Gould’s game-winner.
The loss now sends the reeling Titans home for their final two games, needing badly to regroup and find ways to win against two playoff-bound teams just to reach the postseason themselves.