AFC South: Tennessee Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s silly to say the Tennessee Titans have the first pick in the NFL draft as of today. Tennessee has played one more game than the other contenders, so they have the lead.

Two other two-win teams still have to play this weekend, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Terry McCormick of 247 Sports runs through all the scenarios and says the Raiders can’t get the top pick if they tie for the worst record in the league.

Strength of schedule is the tiebreaker. The team that played the weaker schedule gets the higher pick at the top of the first round.

So for the Titans to land the No. 1 pick, they need to lose against Indianapolis next Sunday. Presuming Tampa Bay loses its final two games -- at home against Green Bay and New Orleans -- the Titans to need lose ground in strength of schedule.

Titans fans who want their team to draft No. 1 need teams the Titans have played to lose and teams the Bucs have played to win.

But some games involving those teams are a bit more complicated than others.

Here’s McCormick’s rundown of those games on the rest of the Week 16 schedule.
Eagles at Redskins: Titans fans should pull for the Redskins, having played both teams, with the Bucs having played only the Skins.

Browns at Panthers: Titans need the Panthers to come out on top in this one, as both have played the Browns, but the Bucs face Carolina twice a year.

Ravens at Texans: Pull for the Ravens, Titans fans. A loss by division rival Houston counts double.

Vikings at Dolphins: Vikings. Minnesota was on Tampa Bay's schedule this season, but neither the Titans nor Bucs faced the Dolphins.

Chiefs at Steelers: Another key game. The Titans played both teams; the Bucs only played Pittsburgh. A loss from KC helps Tennessee.

Colts at Cowboys: The Titans benefit more by having the Cowboys win, adding two Indy losses to their strength of schedule.
Some additional thoughts on the Tennessee Titans following their 21-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville:

Successful homecoming: Running back and returner Leon Washington grew up right near EverBank Field. He has played way more than I expected he would on offense this season, to the point I’d say he’s a Ken Whisenhunt favorite. He was a key part of the success the Titans did have on Thursday.

Washington caught an 8-yard pass from Charlie Whitehurst for the Titans' touchdown.

The third-down back got more action than usual, in part because Dexter McCluster was placed on injured reserve with a fractured kneecap earlier in the day.

The Titans looked to Washington seven times on third down, with three handoffs and four passes. He converted five of his seven chances, finishing with a team-high seven catches for 62 yards.

Third down: The Titans own the worst third-down offense in the league but converted seven of 15 chances, thanks in large part to Washington's efforts. It was the second-best third-down game for the team this season and the best since Week 5 against Cleveland. It wasn't enough to stop the team's losing streak, though.

Fourth-quarter run defense: The Titans came into the game having allowed a league-high 147 carries in the fourth quarter for 495 yards. That’s what happens to teams that trail as often as the Titans do.

Jacksonville picked up on that and was able to run in the final quarter to build and sit on its lead. Jordan Todman went for a 62-yard touchdown to grow the Jacksonville lead to 21-10 with 9:13 left in the game. The Jags ran 10 times for 92 yards and four first downs in the final period.

Beaten by the rookie: Blake Bortles went without throwing an interception for just the second time all season. The rookie quarterback also had his second-best running game of the season, with five carries for 50 yards.

Bortles converted a third-and-9 and a third-and-14 with runs, and the Jags turned both drives into touchdowns.

The third-and-14 play resulted in a 12-yard run, but Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson was flagged for defensive holding of Marcedes Lewis. The play gave the Jaguars a first-and-goal at the Titans' 1-yard line, from where Toby Gerhart scored to give Jacksonville its first lead, 14-10.

Even a ground attack ranked 25th in the NFL had its way with Tennessee.

Mic’d Up: Receiver Nate Washington wore a microphone for NFL Network. He told the offense, “Just because we scored on the first drive doesn’t make us great; we play a full 60 minutes.”

Unfortunately for the Titans, the remainder of those 60 minutes produced two Ryan Succop field goals, a 50-yarder and a 23-yarder.

Rapid Reaction: Tennessee Titans

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
A few thoughts on the Tennessee Titans' 21-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Titans lost their ninth straight game and split with the Jaguars for the sixth consecutive season. Tennessee has been the victim in five of the Jaguars' last 22 wins. The Titans are now in sole possession of last place in the AFC South and are the first team in the NFL to reach 13 losses, making them very much a player in the race for the top pick in the draft.

Stock watch: Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is down. He started the second of three games to end the season with Blidi Wreh-Wilson on injured reserve. Running back Toby Gerhart dragged Sensabaugh around at one point. Sensabaugh fell at the feet of receiver Marqise Lee after one catch, failing to touch him, and he dived and missed in pursuit of Lee after another big catch. When Jordan Todman ran for a 62-yard touchdown, Sensabaugh was chasing a guy to whom the Jaguars had faked a reverse. Later the Jaguars got a crucial, time-killing third-down conversion thanks to a (questionable) pass interference penalty against Sensabaugh.

End the trend: The Titans scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time in 18 games dating back to a Dec. 18, 2013, loss at Denver. It was their first touchdown on offense in three weeks after they failed to find the end zone on offense in losses to the Giants and Jets.

Game ball: The Titans sagged significantly in the middle of the game, and so did quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. But his early work and late work added up to a better-than-decent night for the quarterback -- 24-of-35 for 287 yards and a touchdown with a 102.9 passer rating. He was sacked four times.

What’s next: The Titans host the Indianapolis Colts at LP Field on Dec. 28 to wrap up the season. Tennessee lost at Indianapolis 41-17 on Sept. 28.
video When: 8:25 p.m. ET, Thursday. Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida TV: NFL Network

The Jacksonville Jaguars-Tennessee Titans game on Thursday night certainly doesn't have playoff implications. Not with both teams at 2-12.

But the game does mean something. It's a race to avoid finishing in the AFC South cellar and jockey for draft position. The Jaguars and Titans are two of four 2-12 teams and one 3-11 team (Washington) battling for the No. 1 draft pick.

In a way, it's probably better to finish last in the division because that team would end up with a home game against the last-place AFC West team in 2015 -- which is the 2-12 Oakland Raiders. Finishing third in the division would mean a game against either Kansas City or San Diego.

ESPN NFL Nation Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: We talked earlier this season about Jake Locker. Now I'll ask about Zach Mettenberger. Has Ken Whisenhunt seen enough to know if he's the QB around which he can build the offense?

Kuharsky: We don't know. They got six starts from Mettenberger before he suffered the shoulder injury that meant he'd watch the final three games from the sideline. He showed progress in many areas and fits the Whisenhunt mold -- big guy, big arm, not going to scramble around, will stand in the pocket and face down pressure. But they didn't see him in the fourth quarter of a close game and he was unable to help engineer a win. He and the offense were horrifically bad on third down.

What are the alternatives? They could be in position to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. But Mariota's ability to run is a big element of his game, and Whisenhunt doesn't like that. And Winston has a lot of baggage. The free-agent market is always weak. Good quarterbacks get re-signed. Heck, Locker could be the second-best guy coming free.

I think Mettenberger is probably the starter on opening day, but they need to get some reasonable alternative on the roster.

Blake Bortles has been sacked 46 times and thrown 17 picks to go with 10 TDs. The supporting cast is poor, but what else is behind the poor rookie season?

DiRocco: The first thing is to remember that the Jaguars did not want to play him in 2014 and were forced to because the offense, aside from the first half of the season opener, was non-functional with Chad Henne. That being said, Bortles has footwork issues, doesn't make decisions as quickly as he needs to at times and also tries to do too much instead of making the easy play. In short, he's behaving like 99 percent of rookie quarterbacks.

All of those are fixable problems and the No. 1 task in the offseason will be fixing his footwork. He did not get good coaching in this area at Central Florida and it was one of the main reasons the Jaguars did not want him to play in 2014. One coach told me that when Bortles uses the proper footwork -- when he takes the proper drop, when his feet are in the proper position, when he steps into the throw correctly -- the ball leaps out of his hand and he's very accurate. When he doesn't, however, the ball floats and he's not as accurate.

You did hit on another big reason for his struggles. The Jaguars just aren't very good along the offensive line and have had to rely on five rookies in the starting lineup on offense. That's not a recipe for good football.

Was Whisenhunt caught a bit off-guard by how much of a rebuild he was facing? It seems like a lot of us expected the Titans to be better than this (I did) and not locked in a battle for the No. 1 pick.

Kuharsky: He was asked after the Week 4 loss in Indianapolis whether he might have overestimated what he inherited and he said maybe. It's an answer he regretted, because it fueled questions about his ability to assess other things. I thought the Titans would be closer to the Jaguars than to the Colts, but I saw seven wins against a bad schedule. They've lost to some really bad teams and look to be far, far away from being relevant. There are a load of contributing factors, but Whisenhunt's been too stubbornly committed to his systems rather than bending more to what the roster offers.

This is the one look most of the country gets at the Jaguars and EverBank Field this season. Will people see anything to suggest the Dave Caldwell-Gus Bradley regime is making progress? The record doesn't suggest it.

DiRocco: Bradley was asked about this on Monday, because at 2-12 there doesn't seem to be any progress made in Year 2. His response was that he's seeing significant improvement in some of the young players, such as right guard Brandon Linder, center Luke Bowanko, receiver Marqise Lee and Bortles. That isn't correlating to unit progress, though. So while some of the young offensive linemen are better players now than they were in October, the line isn't playing any better.

There isn't much progress on defense from last season in terms of stats. The passing and rushing yardage allowed is similar, but the Jaguars have seven more sacks this season than in 2013. The unit has done a better job of keeping the Jaguars in games, and had the offense not turned the ball over against Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Miami, the Jaguars could be sitting at five victories right now.

The Titans are one of the few teams that have forced fewer turnovers than the Jaguars (18). What has been the biggest reason the defense can't get takeaways?

Kuharsky: The secondary has a tendency to be in position but allow catches, so those guys are often two significant steps away from grabbing an interception. The pass rush is lacking so it doesn't force quarterbacks into bad throws very often. And it's a poor tackling defense, which has trouble getting guys to the ground, gang tackling and stripping the ball loose. Teams have run 49 percent of the time against the Titans, which seems to reduce the chances of taking the ball away.

Sen'Derrick Marks wasn't wanted by the Titans when his contract expired. He seems to rate as a foundational piece for the Jaguars. How has he done and is he a big piece of their plan?

DiRocco: Marks is indeed one of the building blocks on defense, which the Jaguars proved by signing him to a four-year extension last December. He earned that deal by playing the best football of his career (4.0 sacks, 33 tackles, eight pass breakups). What's impressive about Marks is that he's been even better after he signed his four-year, $22 million deal. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level, though he'll have to get votes from the players and coaches to make the squad. He has 39 tackles and 7.5 sacks, which is a half-sack shy of earning him a $600,000 performance bonus. That many sacks from an interior lineman is unusual and shows just how dominant he has been in his second season in Jacksonville. The Jaguars recently signed defensive tackle Roy Miller to a four-year extension, locking up their two defensive tackles for at least three more years.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With Kendall Wright (hand) out the last couple weeks, Dexter McCluster lined up more as a wide receiver.

Wright is questionable for Thursday night's game in Jacksonville, and McCluster is out with a knee injury suffered in the loss to the Jets.

The Titans haven't thrown to any of their running backs with any regular success this season. Collectively they've caught 64 passes, or 24 percent of the Titans completed passes, for 459 yards.

The Titans are 20th in the NFL in passes caught by running backs and 20th with 84 targets to running backs.

Bishop Sankey was sold as a do-everything back when the Titans took him in the second round, as the first running back in the draft. He's caught only 17 passes this season.

With the team's top pass-catching back out, the Titans should look more to Sankey. As I've said in the past, he should get more third-down work too. Ken Whisenhunt loves Leon Washington in the third-down role, and he's a reliable veteran pass protector.

But if the first running back off the board can't be trusted in the 15th game of his first regular season to pick up a blitzer, and if he can't provide a more dangerous outlet than Washington, then the Titans are telling us they chose the wrong back.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans have had the league’s worst third-down offense for 10 consecutive weeks and 11 of 15 weeks this season.

Tennessee is converting at a .291 clip. The next worst offense, Cleveland’s, is at .302.

Since 2001, the worst third-down offense in the NFL was the 2005 49ers, who managed just .240.

If the Titans maintain their current rate, they’ll have the 16th-worst third-down offense in the past 14 years. (That's the time period ESPN's database covers for such a stat.)

“Winning matchups and execution, those are really the only two things that you can do to get better there,” quarterback Charlie Whitehurst said. “We’ve got to win outside, we’ve got to win up front and I’ve got to throw the ball where it’s supposed to be thrown and we’ll convert.”

General manager Ruston Webster said last week third-down is one area where injured quarterback Zach Mettenberger needs to improve.

Quarterbacks coach John McNulty expanded on that Tuesday.

“It’s been a little bit of everything, ultimately it’s on the quarterback,” he said of the third-down struggles. “I think Zach handled two-minute well, he handled first and second down, he handled four-minute, no huddle. He handled really every other situation we had, all that stuff, pretty well.

“I’d say third down is the one situation you look back and say, 'It’s not all him, but ultimately quarterbacks find ways to work those things out.' Sometimes he didn’t get a lot of help. Sometimes it was on him.

“However it goes, you’re the guy with the ball in your hand, I think the quarterback is the guy who has to find a way to convert those third downs. Whether it’s running for it, where it’s finding somebody, whether it’s scrambling and extending, whatever it may be, you’ve got to find a way. That, obviously, will be the major emphasis for all the guys moving forward.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been the NFL’s worst team over the last five years.

At 21-57 they deserve to be the punch line on jokes about bad NFL football.

The bucket of ice water over the head of Titans fans is that their team is not far behind.

The Titans are only nine games better in the same period, and they account for four of those Jaguars wins -- 19 percent of them.

If Tennessee loses Thursday night at EverBank Field, the Titans will have split with the Jaguars for six consecutive years, which means they will have lost to the Jaguars for six consecutive years.

Jacksonville has been the underdog in 42 consecutive games, a streak that ends with this one.

Two 2-12 teams matched up in a primetime game creates fertile soil for scheduling complaints and jokes.

The Titans don’t really care.

“That’s what they think, some of them are fans, some of them are not,” receiver Kendall Wright said. “If you’re winning they like you, if you’re not, they don’t. Fans are fans, that’s what most of them do….

“But a lot of people will turn the TV on on Thursday because it’s Thursday night football, there is nothing else to watch, why not watch football? We’re going to try to give them a show. With the record we’ve got, we’re still going to try to give them a show and win a game.”

The Titans are hardly going to announce they’re waving the white flag. Fans may want a loss to ensue the Titans outrank the Jaguars for draft position. Players want a win so they outrank the Jaguars in the standings.

“We don’t want to be at the bottom (of the division) at all,” said defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, the team’s best defender.

Said outside linebacker Derrick Morgan: “It’s still a lot to play for, whoever you are. I could see how (people may joke about it), but we’re not focused on that. By this point in the year, anything that comes out about us is going to be negative.

“You can’t buy too much into what the media is saying and that’s being put out there about our team, we’ve just got to focus on getting a win, that’s the main thing, it’s been a while.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kendall Wright caught his usual share of balls at practice Tuesday and said the plan is for him to practice Wednesday and then determine if he’s OK to play Thursday night.

He very much wants to be on the field with the Tennessee Titans in Jacksonville.

“I would like to finish the season and finish it trying to get these two wins, being out there with them,” Wright said. “It’s definitely not fun not playing.”

He won’t play, though, if he can’t catch and can’t help.

He’s not concerned with making his hand injury worse.

“I don’t think so, the bone is pretty much intact,” he said. “If I keep my fingers together, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

Wright is wearing a splint off the field but not for practice or in a game.

QB snapshot: Charlie Whitehurst

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
A quick observation of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and how he played in the Tennessee Titans' 16-11 loss to the New York Jets in Week 15:

Whitehurst took over for Jake Locker in the second quarter against the Jets, and while he threw for 203 yards, he could not guide the Titans to a touchdown.

With Zach Mettenberger out and Locker now on injured reserve, the Titans will turn to Whitehurst to start Thursday night in Jacksonville.

Whitehurst was the starter for the first game against the Jaguars, in Nashville on Oct. 12, when Sammie Hill got a hand on a last-second field goal attempt by Josh Scobee and preserved a 16-14 win for Tennessee.

The Titans haven’t won since then.

Whitehurst is sure to lean on tight end Delanie Walker, the player he’s thrown to the most in the five games he’s played in this season.

The Titans' third-string QB has hit Walker on 15 of 24 attempts this season for 235 yards. Kendall Wright, who has missed the last two games with a broken bone in his hand, is second for Whitehurst, with 15 catches on 21 attempts for 159 yards.

While Mettenberger is a downfield thrower, Whitehurst actually leads the Titans in yards per attempt this season at 7.93.

Whitehurst could also get an upgraded offensive line, as the Titans are hopeful left tackle Taylor Lewan and right tackle Byron Stingily will return Thursday night. Lewan has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain, and Will Svitek has been struggling in his place. Stingily missed last week with an ankle injury of his own.

Jamon Meredith was signed a week ago and started for Stingily against the Jets.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Delanie Walker had the ball in his hands as the Tennessee Titans' loss to the New York Jets came to its conclusion on Sunday.

Walker had run 33 yards with the ball at the conclusion of a 49-yard play composed of a short pass and three laterals, but got knocked out of bounds at the New York 9-yard line by safety Dawan Landry after time had expired.

Lost in the play and the team's eighth consecutive loss was Walker's big accomplishment. Through 14 games, he has 793 receiving yards, the most for a tight end in Oilers-Titans history.

He passed Frank Wycheck, who caught 70 balls for 768 yards for the 1998 Tennessee Oilers.

Wycheck managed 11 yards per catch that season. Walker's yardage has come on just 52 catches, with a 15.3 average.

While Wycheck's best year wasn't that long ago, the game and the role of tight ends has changed a great deal.

Walker amassed the 768 yards in 12.5 games. He suffered a concussion on a big hit in the second quarter in Baltimore and missed the next game against the Steelers.

"I think if we had a better record, he would have gotten more attention for what he's done this year," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He's been a consistent player for us and made a lot of big plays ...

"In this season, which has been very difficult, the way he's played has been a tremendous benefit."

In the Titans' final two games, Walker will have a good chance to boost his numbers.

Charlie Whitehurst is in line to start at quarterback, and Walker's average per catch is highest -- 17.87 yards per catch -- with Whitehurst throwing.

Currently, Walker has the second-most receiving yards among NFL tight ends behind only New England's Rob Gronkowski (1,093.)

Among the 11 tight ends in the top 50 players in NFL receiving yardage, Walker is No. 1 in average per catch.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Since he graduated into the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback in 2012, Jake Locker suffered five injuries that knocked him out of games. No. 6 arrived in Sunday's loss to the Jets as he started in place of the injured Zach Mettenberger.

For Locker, the count means he's suffered an injury that has cost him game action in six of 30 games he's played. That's 20 percent, or one in every five games.

Here's the roster of Locker's injuries.
  • Left shoulder, at Houston, Sept. 30, 2012: Missed five games.
  • Right knee and hip, against Jets, Sept. 29, 2013: Missed two games.
  • Right foot, against Jacksonville, Nov. 10, 2013: Missed seven games.
  • Right thumb, against Cleveland, Oct. 5, 2014: Missed one game.
  • Right wrist, at Cincinnati, Sept. 21, 2014: Missed two games.
  • Left shoulder, against Jets, Dec. 14, 2014: Missed TBD

Fans tend to crush Locker and players like him who can't seem to stay healthy.

He's unlucky, for sure. Some guys are built to withstand stuff better than others. He's not on the high end of that scale. There is only so much he can do to control that, and I'm sympathetic that he's not durable in the way his line of work requires.

Questions about it bother Locker, but he has to understand they are simply part of the deal.

"I've got too many good things in my life, too many blessings in my life to get upset about a few little things like this," Locker said. "Obviously it's frustrating, it's not easy to deal with. But I truly do feel that way."

We'll get an update on Locker from coach Ken Whisenhunt later Monday. The odds that Locker can throw Thursday night in Jacksonville seem very slim. I expect the Titans will sign someone to back up Charlie Whitehurst today.

Locker's contract expires after the season. If he can't play Thursday or on Dec. 28 against Indianapolis, that hit by Jets linebacker Quinton Coples that drove Locker's shoulder into the ground will be his final play for Tennessee.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With a patchwork offensive line protecting second- and third-string quarterbacks and an opponent with an unthreatening offense, it was a game for the Tennessee Titans' defense to win.

The Titans lost it.

Tennessee lost to the New York Jets in the first 16-11 game in NFL history because the offense couldn’t find a touchdown, because Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst combined to complete 45.7 percent of their passes, and because the team ran for 3.2 yards a carry.

But the Titans would have won despite those things but for one play by the defense.

Jets quarterback Geno Smith threw incomplete for Eric Decker up the right sideline on a third-and-15 from New York’s 19-yard line with 6:58 left in the game and Tennessee ahead 11-10.

The Titans were set to get the ball back on the Jets’ seventh punt of the game.

And then a flag went up in the air.

Decker got up on the Titans’ sideline and pushed Wesley Woodyard, who glared back. Though the inside linebacker claims he said nothing to his old teammate from Denver, the flag was for him: unsportsmanlike conduct, 15 yards and a first down.

The Jets drove to the go-ahead touchdown.

“I am extremely frustrated by us giving the game away there at the end,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “…When you get in a situation like that in the fourth quarter after you fought your guts out to try and get in that position and you get them off the field on third down, that can’t happen.”

Woodyard said he did nothing to warrant the call.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Decker [tried to catch] the ball, I stood over by him and he got up and pushed me, I got pushed in the face. I don’t know why. He didn’t explain anything, he just ran over and said, ‘It’s on you, 59.’”

Coty Sensabaugh was in coverage on the play.

“Even Decker said [Woodyard] didn’t say anything,” Sensabaugh said. “… He said that right after the flag was thrown. He said it to me when we were walking back to the huddles. He said, ‘Man, he didn’t even do nothing. That was a horrible call.’”

Too often this season the Titans have said the calls have gone against them unfairly. I think Woodyard would have fessed up if he had said something.

But there had been a brawl earlier in the game and referee John Parry and his crew were eager to maintain control.

Did Woodyard deserve the flag? Probably not. Once he saw the ball was incomplete and Decker was harmlessly out of bounds, though, he should have turned and gone back toward his huddle. Simply eliminate the possibility of any misinterpretation.

It may be unreasonable to have to do so to ensure no flag, but on a bad team with bad luck not long after a bad fight, it’s the disciplined decision a team captain should make.

The Titans' other defensive captain, Jurrell Casey, was a disruptive force all game. He was fortunate to be allowed to finish the game, however.

Smith said something Casey found objectionable in the third quarter after what was initially ruled an 81-yard Smith-to-Decker touchdown pass. A crowd gathered in the middle of the field, Casey took a swipe at Smith’s head and a brawl ensued, with Casey scrapping with right tackle Breno Giacomini at the bottom of it.

“I want to apologize to my team for putting us in a bad situation like that,” Casey said. “I have to control myself in those situations and control my feelings out there. … You know, words don’t hurt you. He didn’t put his hands on me, and I shouldn’t have put my hands on him.”

Casey said what Smith said is personal between the two of them.

Upon review, Parry ruled that Decker stepped out of bounds during his run after the catch. That took away the touchdown, but the resulting 48-yard gain got 15 yards tacked on for Casey’s unnecessary roughness.

Four plays later the Jets had their first touchdown and their first lead.

Two captains. Two 15-yard penalties. Two calls that extended touchdown drives for the Jets.

Two more things that went very wrong in a season in which just about everything has gone wrong.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Tennessee Titans' 16-11 loss to the Jets:

Nice try: The Titans had a good play ready for a desperate situation, it just came up 9 yards short.

On third-and-10 from their own 42-yard line and in need of a touchdown on the game’s final play, the Titans put players who can catch and run at four of their five offensive line spots. Only center Chris Spencer remained.

Charlie Whitehurst took the shotgun snap and threw a 6-yard pass to Dexter McCluster, who lateraled to Nate Washington, who went backward 10 yards and threw a lateral to Whitehurst, who ran for 20 yards and pitched it to Delanie Walker. Walker got to full speed and went 33 yards, but Dawan Landry forced him out of bounds at the Jets' 9-yard line to end the game.

"A lot of times when you run that play, you don’t even get within striking distance,” Whitehurst said. “We had a chance with a lateral play to make something happen and we got pretty close.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he wished Walker had pitched it back one last time, but Walker said going full speed it would have been tough to find someone. He peeked up at the video board and saw Whitehurst, who he felt like was 10 yards behind him. It would have been quite a pitch to have hit him while going full speed, Walker said.

On an afternoon when the Titans actually won third down, and had a 342-277 advantage in net yards, they shouldn’t have needed some sort of mini-Music City Miracle to win.

Walker said he thought he was scoring and the Titans were winning.

Like with so much this season, the Titans came up short.

Why not McCluster: Leon Washington fielded the Jets' free kick after a safety rather than Dexter McCluster, who fields punts, because it’s a kick-return situation, Ken Whisenhunt said. Washington wound up averaging 29 yards on his four other kick returns and had a 46-yarder.

He muffed Ryan Quigley's short free kick early in the second quarter, but the Jets didn’t wind up getting any points off the takeaway.

First time: The game was the first in NFL history to end with a 16-11 score, per ESPN Stats & Information.

You need to see: Find pictures of Titans alumni who were part of a pregame ceremony and video with Jake Locker talking about his injuries and Wesley Woodyard talking about his costly penalty at my Instagram account.
Record as starter: 0-6

The good news: Zach Mettenberger showed steady progress from week to week, improving on his reads and sense of pressure. He is not a runner, but has improved at shifting in the pocket. His big arm allowed him to make a variety of throws with confidence. He showed the sort of confidence and leadership a team wants in a quarterback. He posted an 83.4 passer rating, threw eight touchdown passes and averaged 7.89 yards per attempt, eighth among NFL quarterbacks. Analysts such as Greg Cosell of NFL Films and Matt Williamson of say the Titans should not draft a quarterback high, but look to build around Mettenberger.

The bad news: The lack of mobility and the poor protection he got, especially in his final two games, led to problems. He was knocked out of the game in Houston with a sprained throwing shoulder, and he was knocked out of the game against the Giants a week later with a worse injury to the same shoulder. He wasn’t padding his stats against soft defenses late in losses the way some presume, but we haven’t seen him at work late in a close game. His QBR was only 30.1, with seven interceptions and lost two fumbles. He attempted 179 passes and was sacked 18 times.

Best game: Mettenberger threw an interception on his first pass attempt against the Steelers on "Monday Night Football" and watched William Gay return it 28 yards for a touchdown, putting the Titans down 10-0. But then Mettenberger led the Titans on a big comeback that ranked among the team's best stretches of play this season. They lost 27-24 because they couldn’t stop Le'Veon Bell. But Mettenberger set a rookie record for "Monday Night Football" with 263 passing yards and threw for two touchdowns.

Worst game: Maybe Mettenberger shouldn’t have even been playing Week 14 against the New York Giants considering he’d been knocked out the previous week. He managed only 5.2 yards per attempt, his lowest mark in his six starts, and it was the only start in which he didn’t throw for a touchdown.

Overall grade: C-plus. He showed a lot of promise and made a lot of improvement from week to week. While he threw too many interceptions and contributed to early deficits, he was in a lot of tough situations where he was shouldering a great deal of responsibility as the Titans were rarely in position to be able to be balanced. The Titans may not say after the season that Mettenberger’s their guy -- if only to leave some doubt with the teams they may try to trade with at the top of the draft. But I think they’re going to go forward with him.

Jets vs. Titans preview

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: LP Field, Nashville TV: CBS

Two of the NFL's five worst team's square off Sunday at LP Field.

Big changes are coming for the Tennessee Titans and the New York Jets, two teams that are a mess and carry 2-11 records into the game.

Young players will gain experience, and coaches will see how willing their players remain to give them their all.

But a win in this game could be unhealthy for the long-term forecast, because the high draft pick to come should have a big bearing on the potential for a turnaround in 2015 and beyond.

ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky got together to chat about the New York-Tennessee game.

Paul Kuharsky: Chris Johnson spoke before the season as if his new offensive coordinator was going to have all the answers and he was going to prove the Titans wrong for moving on. I saw some good runs when they were on national TV, but how’s the body of work been?

Rich Cimini: Suffice it to say that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg hasn't had all the answers. This has been a frustrating year for Johnson, who has expressed his feelings on a few occasions. This will be the first time he doesn't reach 1,000 yards. He got off to a slow start, probably because of the surgically repaired knee. He has been more elusive in recent weeks, looking more like the Johnson of old. Your Titans' followers might find this hard to believe, but he's third in the league in yards-after-contact per rush with 2.29. I thought he'd be a bigger factor in the passing game -- so did the coaches -- but he had a couple of early drops and they forgot about him. Johnson will be highly motivated for this game. He's been talking about it since he signed nine months ago.

What happened to Shonn Greene? He was a tough, workmanlike back with the Jets, but he seems to be off the radar now.

Paul Kuharsky: He is. Last week he was a healthy scratch as the Titans tried to get a look at rookie Antonio Andrews, who’s a similar back. But Andrews, like Greene so many times before him, didn’t get much action as the game steered the Titans in a different direction. Greene hurt a knee in the 2013 opener, missed five games and was never the same. He still got 19 carries in a game with Mike Munchak as the coach. This year he’s maxed out at 15 in the opener and hasn’t had more than 11 since. Since Week 5, he has 16 carries total. He’s not a bad situational back, but the worst third-down offense in the NFL isn’t in third-and-short a lot. They gave him a three-year, $10 million deal. I don’t think he’s going to see Year 3.

The Titans are beat up on the offensive line and got torched for eight sacks by the Giants. The Jets look to have a more formidable front than the team they share their stadium with. How’s the pass rush?

Rich Cimini: The pass rush looked good early in the season, but like most everything else on the Jets, it faded -- only nine sacks in the past five games. That said, the defensive line is the strongest unit on the Jets. The Titans should pay attention to Sheldon Richardson, who is coming off the Jets' first three-sack game since 2009. The 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year is making a Pro Bowl push. There's a chance that Muhammad Wilkerson, sidelined the past two games with turf toe, could return this week. He has a specially designed shoe and is planning to test it in practice. Their pass-rushers are hungry, and there could be plenty of eats against the Titans' woeful line.

Some in New York are calling this the Mariota Bowl. Clearly, the Jets will be in the quarterback market. What about the Titans? Would Marcus Mariota, or even Jameis Winston, be a no-brainer pick?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think so. Mariota is a good player, but running around is a big part of what he does, and Ken Whisenhunt is big on pocket passers. Winston would bring some potential to have Vince Young-style issues, and the Titans are not that far removed from that headache and the setbacks it caused the franchise. Anything is possible. But I think they’ll probably go forward with Zach Mettenberger as the starter. He’s shown some promise and is just the style Whisenhunt likes -- a tall guy who can stand in against the rush and has a big arm to deliver the ball. If they stick with him, perhaps they can trade back a bit and land more picks to address their giant list of needs. A pass-rushing threat at outside linebacker in the 3-4 is a must.

Is Rex Ryan down to his final three games in New York? How about general manager John Idzik? Who deserves the most blame for the state of the team?

Rich Cimini: Yes, Ryan's days are numbered. He knows it and everybody in the organization knows it. When you miss the playoffs four straight years, especially in a market like New York, it's tough to make a strong case for him to stay. Idzik's future is less certain. My sense is there's a chance that he, too, will be fired. This is only his second year, but nothing has gone right. He inherited a 6-10 team and turned it into a 2-11 team. I'd say he's probably more at fault than Ryan. Idzik did a poor job of drafting and attacking needs in free agency. He also has turned off people in the organization with his stubborn, closed-door style of management. They could use a good house cleaning.

Obviously, this isn't a stellar matchup, but I think the Jets are still playing hard for Rex Ryan. Can the same be said for the Titans and Ken Whisenhunt?

Paul Kuharsky: I’m not so sure. They are so overwhelmed so quickly these days, there is a resignation that runs through the team as the familiar pattern unfolds. Neil O’Donnell, who quarterbacked the Jets and the Titans, still lives in Nashville and said on the radio this week that he doesn’t believe guys want to play for Whisenhunt. It’s a complete mess, and while no current players are critiquing the coach and his staff, there have been some hints they have questions. And they should. The Titans don’t have much talent, but Whisenhunt has done a poor job of making the most of what he has. There will be big roster turnover in the offseason, but if a roster filled more with Whisenhunt guys doesn’t show significant improvement, his job could have just a two-year tenure.