For weeks, the Tennessee Titans had been living on the edge.
Sunday in Arizona, they fell off the cliff, losing an ugly 12-7 game against the Cardinals, falling to 8-5 and out of first place in the AFC South in the process. Tennessee’s loss, combined with Jacksonville’s win over Seattle, dropped the Titans into second place and into the wild-card race in the AFC.
While the Titans defense held up its end of the bargain with seven sacks and holding the Cardinals without a touchdown, the offense was pedestrian at best and inept at worst.
Marcus Mariota threw two more interceptions in the second half of Sunday’s loss, as he went 16 of 31 for just 159 yards on the day.
The game was scoreless in the first quarter and the Titans finally broke through to take a 7-0 lead on Derrick Henry’s 6-yard touchdown run with 7:16 left in the first half.
After that, the Titans offense did nothing but sputter the rest of the day, leaving the defense to try and protect the precarious lead.
The Cardinals took the ball to start the third quarter and got a field goal from kicker Phil Dawson to get on the board, cutting the Tennessee lead to 7-3.
Then, the Titans made a questionable fourth-and-1 fake punt call from their own 35 with Eric Weems initially being ruled as having picked up the first down only to have the Cardinals challenge the play and the call be overturned.
That turned into three more Cardinals points, as the game slowly began to unravel for the Titans.
Mariota threw interceptions on two of the next three Tennessee possessions. On the first one, the Titans dodged a bullet when Dawson missed a 40-yard field goal.
But following a punt by the Titans, Dawson put the Cardinals in the lead, 9-7, and then added another field goal following Mariota’s second pick to account for the final margin.
The game wasted a strong performance by the Titans defense and Mariota and Coach Mike Mularkey both acknowledged as much after the game.
“Frustration is an understatement,” Mariota said. “The defense played lights out. Special teams did their job, and I have been hurting our team, and I have to find ways to get better and improve.”
Mariota now has 14 interceptions on the season and unless he can find a way to right himself over the final three regular season games, looks in danger of challenging Vince Young’s record of 17 interceptions in 2007 – the most ever by a Titans era quarterback.
“It’s a disappointing loss. The defense played lights out the whole game, but special teams wasn’t good enough and neither was the offense,” Mularkey said.
Mularkey also took blame for some of the play calls that did not work out.
“I probably got a little over aggressive with the punt fake and the call down there to Rishard on the post where they picked it,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
It leave the Titans now having to find a way to regroup with three games left and no margin for error now if they want to have any chance to make the season finale against Jacksonville for the AFC South title.