Who to blame for Tennessee Titans' brutal collapse to NY Giants — and 5 other takeaways | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean
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Six observations from the Tennessee Titans21-20 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday to open the 2022 season at Nissan Stadium:

This was on the offense

Man, the Tennessee Titans are going to want this one back. Tough to drop a winnable home game that you led most of the way. Leaves a lot on which to dwell.

I'll start here: The Titans’ offense began wonderfully and finished well enough, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill proving clutch again in the final seconds of a tight game.

But the offense also failed to take advantage of opportunities to deliver a necessary knockout punch when its defense had the Giants on the ropes – both in the second and fourth quarters, helping leave this game on Randy Bullock's foot for a 47-yard missed field goal.

After Jeffery Simmons’ forced fumble before halftime gave the Titans possession at the Giants’ 42 with a 10-0 lead, the Titans couldn’t turn that into a touchdown, perhaps outsmarting themselves in what was a bafflingly poor red-zone trip. Cody Hollister and Geoff Swaim were out there for pass plays on second and third downs inside the Giants’ 10 – and both throws were short of the goal line, resulting in a chip-shot field goal.

To start the second half, the Titans went three-and-out on consecutive possessions, twice failing to convert on third-and-short. That allowed the Giants to finally gain some footing and seize momentum for the first time, scoring twice to tie the score.

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And then in the fourth quarter after Amani Hooker’s critical end-zone interception, the Titans ran a screen to Swaim before calling a failed run on third-and-short to rookie tight end Chig Okonkwo that lost 5 yards. Nothing against the tight ends, but were these the best options while protecting a late lead?  

For the Titans, this didn’t have to be so difficult.

Defense did a lot, but not enough to save this

All offseason, the expectation has been that the Titans’ defense was going to carry this team’s hopes in 2022. Through one game of the season, you can’t quibble with that.

Nonetheless, the Titans’ defense gave in late. It allowed too many big plays and a huge performance for Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 164 yards and the go-ahead 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter. 

At first glance, I’d praise Simmons, Kevin Byard and David Long Jr. for how active they were, but there were a lot of heroes stepping up on this defense, some known, others not so much (like Kevin Strong). 

The pass rush? Still very good

The Titans’ most encouraging sign Sunday was the continued effectiveness of their pass rush without Harold Landry. They had four sacks in the first half, giving this defense 13 sacks in a span of six quarters going back to the playoff game. That’s an incredible number for a Titans defense that totaled only 19 sacks during the 2020 season.

From Simmons’ dominance to Bud Dupree’s health to Rashad Weaver’s readiness, the unit’s start to the season checked a lot of boxes. The biggest concern ended up being a shoulder injury for Ola Adeniyi.

The Treylon Burks panic was premature

For all the intense scrutiny about him for months, first-round rookie receiver Treylon Burks had a nice debut.

A stat line of three catches for 55 yards might not have been spectacular, but it was enough to give Burks some confidence.

He featured prominently in the rotation and was able to get open for Tannehill – including an important 27-yard catch-and-run on the Titans’ go-ahead drive in the third quarter, earning a first down after an Aaron Brewer holding penalty had backed them up.

Where were Austin Hooper and Robert Woods?

One of the more surprising MIAs on Sunday was tight end Austin Hooper, who’d had a nice training camp and emerged as a favored target for Tannehill. On a day where Swaim had four targets, the absence of throws to Hooper until the final drive stood out.

So did the fact that Robert Woods had only two targets when Burks and Philips combined for 11.

How about that third-down back?

Hey, fantasy football folks, anyone have Dontrell Hilliard catching two touchdown passes in the Titans’ opener?

Given the running backs the Titans had on the roster entering training camp, it could have been an interesting competition for the third-down role, but it never was. Hilliard was the clear choice all along, and he showed why during Week 1 when the Giants neglected to cover him on a couple of touchdowns.

Hilliard ended the day with three catches for a 61 yards.

Reach Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at gestes@tennessean.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes. 

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