[Masthead] Overcast ~ 35°F  
High: 47°F ~ Low: 34°F
Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Defensive lapses, penalties rip Titans

Sunday, December 27, 2009

(Photo)
Tennessee's Chris Johnson (28) finishes a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt fends off a defender. Johnson finished the game with 142 yards rushing.
(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
It was Christmas day, prime time, spirits were high, and hope sprang eternal when the Tennessee Titans, winners of seven of their last eight games, entered their game with the San Diego Chargers with visions of playoffs dancing through their heads in their first-ever Friday night appearance at LP Field.

The Chargers played the role of the Grinch to near perfection as quarterback Philip Rivers carved the Titan defense up like turkeys with the skill of a master surgeon. Rivers led his Bolts to a dominating 42-17 win and clinched a first-round playoff bye.

The loss not only ended the Titans' slim chance at postseason play, but also served as a stark reminder that this team walks a very thin line between being a pretty good team or just another .500 squad that beats bottom dwellers but disappears against top competition.

The Titans were playing without their emotional leader in Keith Bullock, their second leading tackler, and the man who anchors the defense, but not even he could have helped on a night when his side of the ball simply imploded.

The facts are very simple. The Titans defense has been exposed this season for just what it is -- mediocre, and borderline bad. It has become undisciplined as witnessed by three neutral-zone infractions on three different players, followed by two 15-yard penalties on the same play to aid San Diego's first touchdown drive.

Even more egregious, one of the 15-yarders was called on Chuck Cecil, the defensive coordinator, for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Overall, Tennessee was penalized eight times for 61 yards in the first half alone and now has amassed over 700 yards for the season.

Is anyone beginning to see a very disturbing trend here?

The Titans were the next-to-last ranked defense going into the game and did nothing to dispel that ranking after being torched for 425 total yards in front of a national audience and playing for the equivalent of their football lives.

(Photo)
Defensive end Jacob Ford (78) tackles San Diego running back Mike Tolbert after a short gain in the third quarter.
(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
It may very well get worse next season. Kyle Vanden Bosch appears to have lost a full step and has been largely ineffective this season, Bullock may have played his last game as a Titan, David Thornton is showing the effects of age, Michael Griffin seemed to regress at safety, backups Colin Allred and Gerald McGrath were overmatched at linebacker and cornerback Nick Harper is a prime candidate to have a jam or jelly product named in his honor after being toasted so much this season.

The guy must have a locker full of SPF 30 that he applies before every game to endure the heat of being thrown at 15 times a game.

The Titans have months to try and repair their defense but, for now, they turn their attention to running back Chris Johnson and his assault on several rushing records.

The electric second-year player out of East Carolina now has 1,872 yards on the season after rushing for 142 yards, his 10th consecutive game with over 100. He now trails only Hall of Fame running backs Barry Sanders (14) and Marcus Allen (11) in that category.

Johnson will need 128 yards to become only the sixth back in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards in a season.

He also has Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record of 2,105 yards in sight but would need a herculean effort of 234 yards against Seattle next week to accomplish it.

The Titans won't be in the playoffs but will still have the national spotlight on them, thanks to Johnson's quest for the record.

Imagine what accomplishing the all-time record would do for them as a team.

It would be a heck of a way to go into the off-season, wouldn't it?

At this point, they need something to build on. Who would have ever thought it would be offense that would give Titan fans the most hope for the future?

-- Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer.

Jimmy Jones
Sports commentary