The Tennessee Titans suffered through the longest game in NFL history, thanks to two, two-hour weather delays, and may have lost more than just a season opener with three key players leaving with injuries in a 27-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The Titans lost left tackle Taylor Lewan to a concussion, lost quarterback Marcus Mariota to an elbow injury and then lost tight end Delanie Walker to what appears to be a serious leg/ankle injury late in the ballgame. He was carted off after an air cast was placed on the leg.
“I haven’t seen him since he left the field. He’s not in the locker room right now and so our thoughts and our prayers are with him. It certainly didn’t look good where I was standing and I’m sure it didn’t look any better from where you guys were either,” said Mike Vrabel, who was making his head coaching debut.
The Titans lost Lewan to a blindside block by the Dolphins’ Andre Branch on the first of two interceptions by Mariota. Lewan was hit on the play as he was trying to pursue Reshad Jones, who ha two picks on the day. The Titans’ left tackle did not return to the game. He was placed into the league’s concussion protocol.
Mariota just before that had been upended by former Titan William Hayes after handing off to Derrick Henry on a run-pass option play. He went to the sideline for one play, flexing his hand. He said after the game that he lost feeling in his hand and could not grip the ball.
“I thought it was late and low, but that’s not a decision for me to make. I was just trying to make him (the referee) aware of it,” Mariota said of Hayes’ hit. “That’s within the rules. But again, it’s a referee’s determination and I was just trying to make sure he saw it.”
Mariota, who was 9 of 16 for just 103 yards and the two picks, said he probably should have come out immediately instead of trying to play through the injury.
“I’m not going to use that as an excuse. Yeah, I should have probably thought about it hard and made sure that I was making the best decision for the team instead of making that decision later,” he said.
After the Titans dodged a bullet on that series when Malcolm Butler intercepted Ryan Tannehill in the end zone. After that play, the second lightning delay, which lasted two hours and two minutes, Mariota came back in and threw an interception on the ensuing series. That led to a Dolphins field goal that made the score 10-3.
Backup Blaine Gabbert then took over as Mariota was taken out due to an elbow injury initially sustained on the hit from Hayes. Titans coach Mike Vrabel said that Mariota would be evaluated further regarding his injury.
“Right now, he’s being evaluated so we’ll take a look at where he’s at. Took a hit on his shoulder and elbow area, so we’ll kind of see where he’s at here moving forward,” Vrabel said.
Tennessee managed to put together a game-tying touchdown drive as Gabbert directed a nine-play, 75-yard march, thanks in large part to the running of Dion Lewis, who had a 26-yard run to the Miami 34, and also the 4-yard touchdown run. In between, Gabbert had completions to Walker for 16 yards and to Corey Davis for 15 yards. Davis’ catch set up the Lewis TD run.
The Dolphins, however, wasted no time regaining the lead, as Jakeem Grant returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. The Titans had appeared to have tied the game on their next series on a 62-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry, only to have it called back when Delanie Walker was whistled for holding. A replay showed that Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso had hold of Walker’s facemask on the play.
Miami then stretched the lead to 24-10 as Kenny Stills caught his second TD of the game, this one a 75-yarder from Tannehill.
After that, the Titans got a kickoff return of their own for a score, as Darius Jennings went 84 yards to the end zone to cut the Dolphins lead down to 24-17. Miami then turned a Gabbert interception into a field goal to put the game away, going up 27-17 before Succop connected from 53 yards to account for the final margin. A desperation onside kick with 11 seconds left was recovered by the Dolphins to finally put the marathon game and the Titans away.
The Titans looked good on their opening series, as Marcus Mariota moved the team downfield and in position to score. Mariota mixed passes to Delanie Walker and Corey Davis to push Tennessee into plus territory. A third-and-6 pass to Davis gained 17 yards to the Dolphins’ 34-yard line. The drive stalled at the 28-yard line when Taywan Taylor could not haul in a Mariota pass to the end zone, and the Titans settled for Ryan Succop’s 47-yard field goal.
The Titans began to march on their second series as well, but the 11-play, 78-yard march went for naught as Tennessee gave the ball up on downs, going for it on fourth-and goal at the 2. Mariota found Luke Stocker on a rollout pass that gained 31 yards to the Miami 5, setting up first and goal. However, a run play, a pass for Walker that was floated into the flat was knocked away and an incomplete pass to Davis set up the critical fourth-down pass. Mariota this time found Davis, but he was tackled short of the goal line, giving the Dolphins possession of the football at their own 2.
Miami used the momentum of the fourth-down stop to take the lead. The Dolphins used primarily the rushing of Frank Gore, complemented by Kenyan Drake and a few short passes, to march 98 yards in 12 plays. Ryan
Tannehill’s 10-yard TD pass to Kenny Stills, working against Adoree’ Jackson, capped the drive and gave the Dolphins the lead.
The Dolphins gashed the Titans’ defense again on their next possession, going 70 yards in 11 plays, but then had their own drive fizzle in the red zone with no points, as a fourth-and-2 pass to Drake was caught, but he could not keep his feet in bounds. Tennessee then took possession back, and the game was halted during that drive with 1:11 to play due to lightning in the area, causing the first two-hour delay.