How the Titans failed to finish off the Vikings

With the Titans leading 10-0 at halftime and fully in control of the game against the offensively challenged Vikings, coach Mike Mularkey gave his team simple instructions:

“Finish — finish this game,” Mularkey told the players. “That’s one thing we failed to do last year.”

He was right. In 2015, the Titans held a lead going into the fourth quarter five times, but won just two of those games. During one particularly bad stretch, they led going into the fourth quarter of four straight games — and lost three of those.

So what did the Titans do with an opportunity to turn things around in the 2016 season opener? They failed to finish. Tennessee allowed Minnesota to score 25 consecutive second-half points en route to a 25-16 loss at Nissan Stadium.

The Vikings snatched momentum with Cordarrelle Patterson’s 61-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter, forced three turnovers — two of which were returned for touchdowns — and kept the Titans off the scoreboard until there were just 28 seconds left in the game.

“If you look at the first half, I feel like we played great,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “The second half, they got the momentum coming off that kickoff return. And again, we made mistakes where we turned the ball over on the offensive side. I really don’t feel like they did anything to stop us.”

Most of the blame for the second-half slump has to fall on the offense. It wasn’t just the three turnovers that doomed the Titans in the third and fourth quarters, but an overall lack of spark.

On their first three non-turnover drives in the second half, the Titans went three-and-out each time, amassing a combined three yards.

One of the more frustrating moments of the second half occurred on their first drive, when 6-foot-3, 247-pound rookie running back Derrick Henry was stuffed for no gain on third-and-one.

“We ran a power load play with Derrick Henry, and that’s a play we firmly believe we should be getting,” Mularkey said. “We didn’t convert that third-and-one and then it just felt like a medley of turnovers play after play. It was hard to get into any rhythm.”

The Titans’ defense held up fairly well in the second half, but wasn’t blameless.

The Vikings put together three long field-goal drives — 11 plays for 58 yards, 10 plays for 42 yards and seven plays for 45 yards — that kept the Titans’ offense off the field.

In addition, the Titans failed to produce a turnover against Minnesota's Shaun Hill-led offense. That scenario was all-too-familiar last season, when the Titans finished with a minus-14 turnover ratio.

“I thought we played as solid as we could, but we just have to get turnovers,” Titans linebacker Avery Williamson said. “That’s the only thing we didn’t do. That can change a game.”

The Titans left the field feeling like they'd been in this place before — failing to win at home and failing to finish a team despite holding a second-half lead.

This story originally appeared on The Tennessean’s website.


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