It is preseason, so the Tennessee Titans saw a little bit of good as well as a little bit of bad in Saturday’s 26-16 loss to the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
Bad showed up first for the Titans on Carolina’s first possession. The Titans were behind almost from the outset, giving up a 61-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn, Jr., on the opening drive. Ginn made cornerback Antwan Blake, who had already been targeted for two completions in coverage on the drive, miss and strode into the end zone, outracing the Tennessee defense.
“We take pride in trying to make sure we make stops and put our offense in the best situation. To put them behind like that to start the game was very unacceptable for us as a defense. … We can’t allow things like that to happen,” defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said.
On the Titans first possession, there was more trouble, as Marcus Mariota was intercepted by Panthers defensive back Bene Benwikere when he did not get enough loft on a pass intended for Harry Douglas. That turnover perhaps kept the Titans from scoring, as Tennessee had reached the Carolina 27-yard line.
After giving up a field goal late in the first quarter, the Titans offense found a nice rhythm in the second period on the last of Mariota’s three series at quarterback. The second-year pro directed a nine-play, 81-yard touchdown drive, finishing it with a 23-yard touchdown to Harry Douglas following a rollout to the right.
“The safety bit on the run, and Harry was able to get behind him and made a great catch,” Mariota said.
It capped what was a solid day for the second-year QB, other than the one blemish of the interception. Mariota ended his day 9 of 10 for 104 yards.
“Nothing bothers Marcus, and you want that out of your quarterback,” Douglas said of Mariota coming back from the interception. “You don’t want your quarterback getting rattled and thinking about things they probably shouldn’t. He does a great job of moving on to the next play.”
The Titans needed the spark that Mariota in the passing game, because the run game found the going much harder on Saturday than in the first preseason game against the Chargers. The Titans ran the ball 24 times for 96 yards against the stout Panthers defense.
“They’ve got a physical d-line and physical linebackers. They flow fast, and their main defense is to stop the run. They’ve got a great defense, so it was a good test for us,” said rookie running back Derrick Henry, who led the Titans with 31 yards on five rushes. “That definitely was a glimpse of how the real season will be like. They play hard and they fly around hard. I started slow. I tried some cutbacks, but with a team like that, you can’t cut back because they flow so hard.”
After trailing 13-7 at the half, the closest the Titans would get to the Panthers was 13-10 following Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal in the third quarter. By that point, backups were in for both teams, and Carolina tacked on two second-half touchdowns, in between a half-hour delay for lightning in the area.
At the end, the Titans added one more touchdown drive late. Alex Tanney directed a 10-play, 68-yard drive and finished it was a 9-yard touchdown toss to Alex Ellis.
While the offense had its moments, especially in the passing game (two interceptions not withstanding), the defense still has work to do. Tennessee did not generate any sacks on defense, but veteran linebacker Brian Orakpo, who got the closest to one, believes the pressure will improve once the game planning begins in the regular season. Orakpo took down Newton, but the Panthers QB scrambled enough to get a 1-yard gain rather than a sack.
“Once we get into game-plan mode, I believe it will be a lot smoother Overall, I liked the physicality and what we’re doing out there. We’ve just got to stay with it and fix it. Communication is key,” Orakpo said.