On Sunday, the Titans ran out of magic.
For weeks, the Coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson had been replacing injured players, most of them starters, and some the very heart of the team, and kept on rolling through some of the NFL’s top contenders.
But Sunday against the lowly Houston Texans, who like the two-win New York Jets before them, took advantage of a flawed-by-injury Tennessee roster to pull off an upset and send the Titans back to the drawing board.
Before Sunday’s game ever kicked off, the Titans were without starters Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, Bud Dupree, David Long, Rashaan Evans, Jackrabbit Jenkins, Nate Davis, Geoff Swaim and others who were missing from the lineup.
During the six-game win streak, those absences didn’t seem to matter. Vrabel and Robinson would simply pull up another player from the practice squad – or in some cases off the street – and the Titans march on.
However, Sunday the losses by injury just might have proven to be too much, against the Texans of all teams.
Nowhere was the attrition more noticeable than at wide receiver, where the Titans lost Marcus Johnson in the first half to hamstring injury, and then lost A.J. Brown in the fourth quarter to a chest injury. It left Ryan Tannehill and the offense trying to mount a comeback with all of three healthy wide receivers at their disposal. Those three – Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, who responded with seven catches for 107 yards, Chester Rogers and rookie Dez Fitzpatrick, who had his first NFL touchdown in the game – did as well as perhaps could be expected. Ditto for the running back position where third-down Jeremy McNichols was missing with a concussion, leaving Adrian Peterson, D’Onta Foreman and practice squadder Dontrelle Hilliard to try and fill Henry’s big shoes.
With what was missing compared to what was available, it has been like taking Michael Jordan or Mickey Mantle out of the lineup. You can run the same plays, but the results are not likely to be nearly as good.
To his credit, Coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans players will never stand on injuries as a reason for losing, often pointing to a next man up philosophy when putting backups and newcomers on the field to replace valuable starters. But on Sunday, it looked like the Titans were just about out of next men up.