MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Two lightning delays, a melee, two kickoff returns for touchdowns, injuries to key players, and a game that took over seven hours to play, making it the longest game in NFL history.
The season opener for the Titans and Dolphins had it all here on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Only it didn’t include a Titans victory.
Unfortunately, the game also included an elbow injury to Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who watched the game’s fourth quarter from the sideline. Tight end Delanie Walker was taken off on a cart, outfitted in an air cast, after suffering a lower leg injury, and tackle Tayor Lewan didn’t finish the contest after suffering a concussion.
It was a painful start to the season for the Titans, who lost 27-20 to the Dolphins in Mike Vrabel’s first game as the team’s head coach.
“In the end we didn’t do enough to win the game,” Vrabel said. “We didn’t play well enough, and we didn’t coach well enough.”
A number of Titans expressed disappointment – and disgust – after a long day.
“It definitely sucks,” defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. “This is definitely not what we came down here to do. … We have to make sure we find a way … and we didn’t get that done.”
The official game time was 7 hours, and eight minutes.
“We are disappointed,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We felt like we could definitely come down here and get a win in Miami, and we didn’t. It is disappointing. Just a lot of sloppy play today.”
The Titans took an early 3-0 lead on a 47-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop, which capped off a 9-play, 37-yard drive. Mariota connected with Walker and receiver Corey Davis for third-down completions that went for first downs on the drive, and nearly connected with receiver Taywan Taylor for a touchdown on a deep ball, but the pass fell incomplete.
The Titans then drove the field on their next possession, and had a first and goal from the Miami five after a 31-yard completion from Mariota to tight end Luke Stocker. But the Titans came up empty, after a fourth down try – a Mariota pass to Davis – came up short of the end zone after the team went for the touchdown instead of a second field goal early.
On the ensuing drive, the Dolphins took a 7-3 lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to receiver Kenny Stills which capped off a 12-play, 98-yard drive.
The Titans defense got a huge stop just before halftime, after the Dolphins went for it on 4th and 1 from the Tennessee 15. With linebacker Brian Orakpo in coverage, Tannehill’s pass to running back Kenyan Drake was ruled incomplete on the sideline, as Drake managed to get just one foot inbounds.
The game was delayed by lightning with just 1:11 before halftime, with the Titans trailing 7-3. The game ended up being delayed 1 hour, 57 minutes before play was resumed.
After play resumed in the third quarter, things got wild.
Mariota was hit away from the play by Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes, which forced him to leave the game for a play with an elbow/shoulder injury, Vrabel said. Back-up quarterback Blaine Gabbert played one snap – he threw an incomplete pass on third down -- before Mariota returned to the game the following drive.
When he returned, Mariota was intercepted on his next pass by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, and what ensued next was a wild scene that included players from both teams pushing and shoving on the field, a brawl sparked when Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch leveled Lewan with a crack back block in front of the Tennessee bench. Two Dolphins were penalized in the fracas, along with Titans running back Dion Lewis. Lewan never returned after the hit.
It looked as if the Dolphins would add to the lead after that after having a first-and-goal at the Titans seven-yard line. But Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler stepped up with a big play, intercepting Tannehill in the end zone. Butler returned the interception to the Tennessee 35.
That’s when play was delayed again because of another lightning strike, and this delay was 2 hours and 2 minutes.
On the first play back, Mariota was intercepted by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Dolphins then extended their lead to 10-3 on a 27-yard field goal by kicker Jason Sanders.
Mariota would be replaced after that by Gabbert, who led the Titans on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was capped off with a four-yard touchdown run by running back Dion Lewis, which made it 10-10.
“I just couldn’t feel my fingers, couldn’t feel my hand,” Mariota said after the game. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t grip the ball and all that stuff.
“I should have probably thought about it hard and made sure I was making the best decision for the team,” Mariota said of returning. “Instead of making that decision later.”
Disaster struck on the ensuing kickoff after Tennessee’s touchdown, as Dolphins return man Jakeem Grant went 102 yards for a touchdown to give Miami a 17-10 lead with 14:04 left in the contest.
The Titans appeared to answer back just as quickly on a 62-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry, but the play was negated because of a questionable holding penalty on Walker.
The Dolphins then struck again, scoring on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Stills, which made it 24-10 with 10:22 left in the contest. Still got behind Butler on the play, and he raced to the end zone after making the catch.
Titans return man Darius Jennings then returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, making it 24-17 with 10:11 left, igniting the bench on the Titans sideline.
On Miami’s next drive, Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro intercepted Tannehill.
When the Titans took over, Gabbert was picked off by Jones, who returned it 54 yards to the Tennessee 12-yard line. The Dolphins cashed it in for another field goal to make it 27-17 with 3:49 left.
Walker was injured late, and the Titans made it 27-20 on Succop’s 53-yard field goal late. The Titans failed to recover the on-sides kick, and the Dolphins won.
The Titans face the Houston Texans next Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“It is tough,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “You want to win every one, and obviously there’s only been one undefeated team. But I have been in seasons when we won the first game (and had a losing season).
“I think we have a lot to learn from in this game that will allow us to win a lot of games in the future. We can’t give away games like we gave away today.”
The Tennessee Titans take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the Miami Dolphins in the regular season opener for both teams on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)