Browns earn respect by humbling a Titans team that wasn't ready for them | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean
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This is why the Titans can’t have nice things.

Even now, after all this time and tangible progress. After those stirring wins in Baltimore and Indianapolis, alas, they’re capable of this, too. Sunday’s humbling 41-35 defeat to the Browns was a license to reconsider what we thought we knew about these Titans.

It was much worse than the final score. It was so bad, in fact, that it might actually end up being useful. Because for some reason, when expectations are lowered and everyone doubts these Titans, that’s when they still seem to produce their best.

That sort of thing could make zero sense – and yet, it makes total sense.

More:Browns 41, Titans 35: Five observations as the Titans fail to handle Browns passing raid

It’s infuriating to not receive credit for something you believe you’ve demonstrated. The Titans used that as a rallying cry in last season’s playoffs, becoming this gritty, overachieving, no-quit team no one saw coming. They’ve sought to remain that team while receiving more national esteem in 2020.

Sunday’s beatdown at Nissan Stadium was indeed about an underrated team earning respect, but it was the guys on the other sideline. The Titans faced an opponent a lot hungrier, and they weren't ready for it.

Sure, they hung around and made it interesting, because again, that’s what these Titans do. But they weren’t sharp. They took their foot off the gas, and we saw clearly they’re not good enough to do that against a good team and be competitive.

And, yes, the Browns are a good team. That’s really the predominant takeaway.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) gets up after being sacked by Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Only three times in their first 11 games had these Titans been favored by more than the 4-point spread they had against the Browns.

The Browns were 8-3, but it wasn’t being believed. They’d just squeaked out wins, largely against a soft schedule. They’d been beaten soundly by better opponents. And they were, after all, the Browns. Surely, the Browns were gonna find a way to Browns it up eventually, right?

They still might, but they sure didn’t Sunday. Throughout the first half, the Browns humiliated the Titans like no one in awhile. The Browns were up 38-7 at halftime, having chalked up gaudy stats while scoring on their first six possessions. The Titans simply could not stop the Browns and, honestly, didn’t even appear close.

Pair that with a Titans offense that failed to score on five of its first six possessions, and things got ugly in a hurry – and unfamiliarly so.

Running back Derrick Henry fumbled once. Wide receiver A.J. Brown fumbled twice. Neither is known for that sort of thing.

Didn’t help, too, that the Titans weren’t getting many breaks. A few close calls went against them early. Even when they did score their first touchdown, Brown limped off before returning.

Just that kind of afternoon for the Titans? Yeah, it was.

However, this team prides itself so much on mental toughness and overcoming adversity. The most troubling part of Sunday’s first half was it showed none. It crumbled as the Browns went up and down the field at will. Flawed as these Titans might be, they haven't done that very often.

"Just didn't play well enough early on to give ourselves a chance," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.

It'll be difficult to know how to digest this one. Felt like a Browns team surging at the right time against another that, well, who knows?

We’ve been tempted to bury the Titans’ hopes on less awful days. Yet they are still 8-4 with winnable games coming up against the Jaguars and Lions.

Problem is, they’ll surely be favored to win those.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

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