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Notebook: Titans' Dramatic Comeback Ends with Loss in OT

Posted Dec 15, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The plot thinned and thickened in the fourth quarter but Sunday’s script ended bitterly in overtime for the Titans against the Cardinals at LP Field.

Tennessee rallied for 17 points in the final six-plus minutes of regulation to tie the game at 34 and quickly moved the ball into Arizona territory, but Antoine Cason recorded his second interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick on the day and returned it to the Cardinals’ 46.  

Chris Johnson eludes defenders for Tennessee's first TD of the game, a 25-yard catch from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Slideshow.

Arizona was able to use five run plays and one short pass to move close enough for Jay Feely to kick a 41-yard field goal and claim a 37-34 victory that eliminated Tennessee (5-9) from playoff contention.

“That’s a game we’re supposed to win. For us to come back 17 points down late like that, to win the toss, get the ball, you know, be at home, all that stuff … it’s that the ending really scripted there, but unfortunately it happened,” Fitzpatrick said. “I am really proud of the way we fought on offense today. Those guys never gave up in the huddle, and they were making plays all day.”

Tennessee’s rally included two of Fitzpatrick’s four touchdown passes to Michael Preston and a 24-yard field goal by Rob Bironas in the final 3:12 of regulation.

“Guys were all in. I think our whole sideline was standing up, cheering, everybody on offense was giving their all and we were coming back in the huddle like, ‘We’ve got to make one more play,’ and Ryan was leading that,” Delanie Walker said. “He was doing a great job of keeping us out there and putting us in great situations. We just fell short. I feel like we made plays when we needed to, and Arizona made plays, too.”

Fitzpatrick was trying to connect with Preston in overtime but was hit by a blitzing defender as he released the ball, causing an underthrow.

“It was a deep ball. I worked the defender, got a good release off the ball and I was headed to the end zone,” said Preston, who spent most of 2011-12 on Tennessee’s practice squad. “I think Ryan meant to put it out there but he took a shot when he was throwing it and that’s why the ball came out like it did.”

Fitzpatrick had career highs in completions (36), attempts (58) and yards (402), and had his fifth career game with four TD passes. He placed blame on himself for not setting the right protection to counteract Arizona’s blitz.

Cason returned his first interception of Fitzpatrick 20 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinals up 34-17 with 6:13 left in regulation. It was two plays from scrimmage after a short TD run by Rashard Mendenhall capped an 11-play, 60-yard drive that followed Bironas missing a 50-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 20 early in the fourth quarter.

Fitzpatrick came back firing, however, and the Titans showed resolve. He led a nine-play drive in 3:01 that ended with a 10-yard pass to Preston, who along with Kenny Britt was active because Justin Hunter and Damian Williams were inactive for violation of a team rule. Fitzpatrick went 8-for-9 on that drive, accounting for all 67 yards.

Tennessee’s defense forced Arizona (9-5) to a quick three-and-punt, and Tennessee drove 87 yards on 10 plays to set up the field goal by Bironas with 52 seconds left in regulation. The Titans then recovered an onside kick attempt when Jackie Battle smashed into Larry Fitzgerald to knock the ball from the Cardinals’ top receiver, and rookie Daimion Stafford recovered it at the Tennessee 46.

Fitzpatrick connected with Kendall Wright on consecutive completions of 26 and 20 yards to move to the Arizona 8 and found Preston with 10 seconds remaining. Munchak opted to tie the game because he thought momentum the Titans had gained would carry over into overtime.

Nate Washington hauls in a 33-yard reception in overtime. Click here for a slideshow from the game.

After misfiring on an attempt to Wright, Fitzpatrick found Nate Washington for a gain of 33 that moved the ball from the Tennessee 24 to the Arizona 46, but the interception occurred a play later. Tennessee’s defenders pointed out that the game wasn’t over at that point.

“You have all the confidence in the world that your offense is going to go down and score but you also believe in yourselves, and when we take that field, we go out with the belief that we’re going to get the ball right back, and it wasn’t able to happen for us,” Jason McCourty said.

Still there were other moments that had significant impact on the outcome of the game. Arizona recovered the opening kickoff of the second half (a deliberately short kick that Patrick Bailey was unable to corral at the 25-yard line) and turned it into a 47-yard field goal by Feely for a 13-10 edge. Tennessee’s Michael Griffin, Alterraun Verner and Zaviar Gooden each came close to intercepting Carson Palmer at different points of the game.  

“We didn’t get one ball again this game to give us a short field, to give us an advantage, to give us momentum,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We had to earn everything we did. The guys fought back hard. They believed we would win this game. Unfortunately, we have a turnover at the end and we can’t get a stop on defense. The turnover wasn’t the end of the game, you just get a stop and the game goes on. We turned it over, and then we couldn’t get a stop. That’s kind of what has been happening this year to us.”

It was the fifth straight game in which the Titans had started the fourth quarter leading or within seven points of an opponent, but Tennessee is 1-4 in that span (led Oakland 13-12 and won 23-19).

PASS HEAVY: Fitzpatrick became the first Titan to throw for more than 400 yards since Billy Volek’s 492 at Oakland in 2004. Wright was targeted 20 times and set career highs with 12 receptions for 150 yards. The totals pushed the second-year receiver beyond the 1,000-yard mark for the first time. He has 85 receptions for 1,007 yards with two games to play.

Walker caught eight passes for 53 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter on 11 targets, and Washington had seven catches for 92 yards on nine targets. Chris Johnson had three catches for 51 yards, including a 25-yard TD on an improvisation with Fitzpatrick, and Britt had three catches for 29 yards.

DOUBLE DIGITS: Jurrell Casey led the Titans with nine tackles and 1.5 sacks. He had two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. Casey’s first sack of the day was just inside of the two-minute warning of the first half, and he shared one with Pollard on the final snap of the opening half, boosting his season totals to 10.5.

“It was good to get the sacks,” Casey said. “You don’t really get to enjoy them the way you want to when you lose, so I know what I can do individually, but I haven’t done enough to help the team, so I’ve got to continue to find ways to help this team win.”

Casey became the second defensive tackle in Titans/Oilers franchise history to have double digits in sacks in a season, joining Ray Childress, who had 13 in 1992.

GOOD COMPANY: Walker, who returned to the lineup after missing most of the Dec. 1 game at Indianapolis and all of the Dec. 8 game at Denver because of a concussion, scored his sixth touchdown of the season, becoming the first Titans/Oilers tight end with that many in a year since Frank Wycheck had six in 1996. Walker said he was more worried about near misses that preceded the score.

“I’m disappointed in myself. I dropped two touchdown passes,” Walker said. “Even though the coaches have trust in me and came back to me the third time and I scored a touchdown, that’s outside of my character. That should never happen. I feel like with those two passes I let the team down and whatever I’ve got to do next week to get better, Jugs (machine), condition more, whatever, I’m going to do that because that’s stuff that I shouldn’t let happen, two passes slip through my hands. I’m disappointed. I don’t even care about that touchdown.”

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