GREEN BAY, Wisc. – Mike Vrabel was looking for a clean operation in his first game with the Titans.
While things weren’t perfect, he liked a lot of what he saw in his head coaching debut here at Lambeau Field on Thursday night. He also saw room for improvement.
The Titans scored a touchdown on quarterback Marcus Mariota’s only drive of the night – the first drive called by new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur.
And after allowing a touchdown on Green Bay’s first offensive possession, the Titans stiffened up on defense and made some stops, even getting a goal line stand at the end of the first half.
But things got sloppy in the second half, when the team was riddled with penalties, turnovers and mistakes. The Titans were penalized 14 times for 124 yards in the contest, and the Packers had too much success against the Titans reserves down the stretch.
It all added up to a 31-17 loss for the Titans against the Packers in the team’s first preseason contest.
“I think we were concentrating on the substitution, the operation, the execution,” Vrabel said. “I think the substitution and the operation was actually pretty good. I think the execution needs to improve.”
The Titans led 10-7 at the half, before back-ups and players competing for roster spots finished the contest. And the Packers pulled away.
Mariota guided the Titans to a score in his only drive of the contest, capping off the possession with a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Darius Jennings.
“It definitely felt good,” Jennings said. ”Just for us to come out and put points on the board first. We always talk about a fast start, and we did that.”
The scoring toss to Jennings capped off a nine-play, 71-yard drive that took 4:38 off the clock, and it gave the Titans a 7-0 lead. The biggest play of the drive was a 38-yard completion from Mariota to receiver Nick Williams on third-and-seven from their own 32-yard line.
Mariota finished the game 2-of-3 for 42 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for seven yards on his only carry of the night. His passer rating was 149.3.
“It was good that we were able to go down and score, and get into a rhythm,” Mariota said. “This is another stepping stone for us, and one we can build off of. We’ll get back to work in a couple of days and feed off of this, and use it as momentum and continue to work on the process.”
Back-up quarterback Blaine Gabbert replaced Mariota on the second drive of the contest and played into the third quarter. Rookie quarterback Luke Falk entered the game in the closing seconds of the third quarter, and finished the game with a touchdown pass to tight end Tim Semisch in the closing minutes.
The Packers drove the field and scored on their opening possession of the game, reaching the end zone on an eight-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brett Hundley to running back Jamaal Williams, who caught the ball in the flat and managed to escape a tackle by linebacker Jayon Brown in the open field. It capped off a seven-play, 75-yard drive, which was highlighted by a 57-yard catch by receiver Davante Adams, who got behind cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Brown responded with an interception later in the contest, however, when the defense tightened up. The defense even held the Packers out of the end zone after they’d reached the Tennessee 4-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half. The Titans got a stop on fourth down when cornerback LeShaun Sims broke up a pass in the end zone.
But the Packers scored midway through the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by running back Joel Bouagnon, which made it 14-10. It followed a pass interference penalty on defensive back Rico Gafford in the end zone, which put the ball at the Tennessee one-yard line.
The Packers stretched the lead to 17-10 with 13:26 remaining on a Mason Crosby’s 41-yard field goal, which followed a fumble by Titans running back Akrum Wadley. The Packers made it 24-10 in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tim Boyle to receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling with 3:49 left.
The Packers extended the lead to 31-10 on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Boyle to Jake Kumerow.
Then Falk connected with Semisch for a nine-yard scoring toss with 1:42 left, which made it 31-17.
Rookie edge rusher Harold Landry was among the young players who stood out. A second-round draft pick, Landry came off the edge and sacked Hundley in the first half, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Packers.
“Certainly, that's what we expect of them,” Vrabel said of the young players on defense. “I think that's what we talked about the whole training camp and since we've been here – having a competitive spirit and being mentally and physically tough while being able to be conditioned and disciplined to do it every day.”
The Titans return to the practice field on Saturday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. They’ll face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week Two of the preseason at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, August 18.
Vrabel said the game provided something for the team to build on in his first game as head coach.
“I love this team, I do,” Vrabel said. “I love these guys and I’ll continue to try and improve and do a better job as we go on through this journey in the preseason and then heading into the regular season. I want them to hold me accountable. I have to hold them accountable and they have to hold each other accountable.
“So there’s going to be things that I can improve on. Nobody is going to make more mistakes than me -- that is what I tell them. We’ll get things coached up and we’ll look at it and get these guys back in here on Saturday.”
The Tennessee Titans open the 2018 preseason against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Titans prepare to take on the Green Bay Packers in the preseason opener for both teams Thursday night at Lambeau Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)