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Glennon's Take: Titans Won't Let Opening Loss Define Them

Posted Sep 10, 2017

Titans must show improvement in special teams, red-zone play heading into Jacksonville. But performance of first-round draft picks one of bright spots in loss.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans began this season with something they hadn't in years: expectations.

After making a six-win jump last season, after beating five playoff teams, and after posting the same record as the AFC South champion Texans – and then making some key offseason acquisitions – it was natural for fans to get excited about this year's prospects.

The fact plenty of analysts picked the Titans to win the division for the first time since 2008 only added to the hype.

All of which meant Sunday's season-opening loss 26-16 to Oakland carried with it a healthy dose of frustration. The greater the expectations, after all, the greater the sense of disappointment when they're not immediately fulfilled.

But let's not get completely carried away after a single loss.

Sure, the Titans would have loved to jump-start their season by winning a fifth straight game at Nissan Stadium. It would have been a nice boost heading into the start of divisional play next Sunday in Jacksonville.

“We don't want to lose at home,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “We talk about protecting our house. We didn't do that today, so it was disappointing.”

But keep things in perspective here: The Titans were beaten by a quality Raiders team, one that might just have been the best team in the NFL last year before quarterback Derek Carr broke his leg in the second-to-last game of the season.

Carr has a stable of outstanding receivers and an apparently rejuvenated Marshawn Lynch to run the ball as well.

That said, the Titans clearly need to clean some things up before taking on the Jaguars next week.

Two of the more prominent issues:

Special teams

Titans coach Mike Mularkey made special teams a particular emphasis during the offseason, but the results weren't there against the Raiders.

The onside kick didn't work, but it wasn't because of a breakdown by the Titans. Oakland's special teamers simply stayed at home. More concerning were preventable errors like Brynden Trawick running into the kicker, giving Oakland an additional five yards that led to a Raiders field goal.

“Special teams, we've still got to get better at, there's no doubt about it,” Mularkey said. “We had three penalties, a missed field goal, we had a 40-yard plus return; those are things we've got to get better.”

Red-zone stalls

The Titans were the NFL's best team in the red zone last year, the only team in the league to punch the ball into the end zone at a rate of better than 70 percent. So it was surprising to see them go just 1-for-3 against Oakland. The Titans came up with a combined six points following a 93-yard drive in the second quarter and a 67-yard drive in the third.

“I think that was probably the turning point of the game, the fact we couldn't score touchdowns there,” Mariota said. “You play a good team like that, you've got to make the most of your opportunities.”

Still, it's worth pointing out that Mariota has had very little time to work with two of his top three receivers, Corey Davis and Eric Decker. Timing and chemistry are especially important when there's less field to work with, so we might have been seeing those issues flare up during the second-quarter drive.

“(More reps) will help a lot,” Davis said. “We're still building that chemistry. He's a great quarterback. We all know that. I have to clean up some things to help this team win.”

The Titans' loss, however, wasn't without its share of bright spots.

One was the strong play of the team's rookies.

Davis didn't play a down during the preseason due to a hamstring injury, but he immediately gave Titans fans an illustration of why the team chose him with the fifth overall pick in the draft. He made an incredible leaping 23-yard catch down the right sideline in the first half to set up the Titans' first touchdown. It was just the kind of reception the receiver-hungry Titans have been in search of for years.

Davis finished with six catches for 69 yards in his NFL debut.

“That's the standard (for Davis),” Mariota said. “That's what I think he can live up to and we can always get better.”

Then there was cornerback Adoree Jackson, the 18th overall pick in the draft. Thrown into his first start against one of the NFL's top offenses, Jackson held his own against Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and company. Jackson knocked away a pair of passes and helped limit Cooper to five catches (for 62 yards) on 13 targets.

Jackson also made an electrifying 35-yard kick-off return, one that was only one broken tackle away from possibly going the distance.

“I saw him make a lot of good plays,” Mularkey said. “Again, I thought we had some young guys that did some good things today that they can build off of.”

In addition, Mariota dispelled any concerns that last year's broken leg would hamper him in the early stages of this season. He connected on 25-of-41 passes for 256 yards. But an even better sign – health-wise – was that the Titans were calling run plays for him, like the 10-yard scamper he scored on in the first quarter. Mariota finished with three carries for 26 yards and looked like his old mobile self in the pocket.

Mariota, of course, was in no mood to celebrate any accomplishments short of a victory, which is just the kind of attitude he should have.

“Flush it, move on and get ready to go,” Mariota said about the contest. “That's all you can do. It's a long season.”

One that won't be defined by a single loss on opening day.

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.