By Terry McCormick
If Sunday’s first half was the “dress rehearsal” preseason outing for the Tennessee Titans, then there were enough flubbed lines to be concerned when the show opens for real on Sept. 10.
The Titans struggled in all phases of the game and were fortunate to be trailing the Chicago Bears only by 12 points at the half of Sunday’s 19-7 loss.
“It’s preseason. The starters did play a lot in this game, but we’ve still got two weeks to clean it up,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “Hopefully, we can get everything situated for the Oakland game.”
The Titans sputtered enough that the starting offense stayed on the field until the first play of the fourth quarter, when Derrick Henry scored on a 3-yard catch and run on a toss from Marcus Mariota, finally erasing the zero from the scoreboard.
It was a struggle from the get-go for Tennessee. After the Titans punted on the game’s first series, Mike Glennon marched the Bears 96 yards for a touchdown, using former Titans receiver Kendall Wright to great effect, as the former Tennessee first-round pick caught three passes for 35 yards, often matched against rookie Adoree’ Jackson, who got the start at cornerback. Dion Sims of the Bears found the end zone on a one-yard pass from Glennon to give Chicago a 7-0 lead.
Offensively, Tennessee stalled often, managing just 79 yards on the ground in 22 carries. The Titans were also plagued by penalties throughout in all phases – with eight infractions marked off for 69 yards. That didn’t even include the ejection of left guard Quinton Spain, who exited in the first half along with Bears defensive lineman Jaye Howard for throwing punches in the pile.
As for the run game’s struggles, left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was hit with two penalties, said the Titans have to start faster, something he believes will happen once the regular season begins.
“We’ve got to come out faster, like we did last week (against Carolina),. The good thing is it’s preseason and it’s better to learn that now than in week eight,” Lewan said. “We just have to come out fast, come out strong and realize that we can play with anybody. We have the players, and we have that fight in us. Something just felt a little slow. Obviously, you can’t have penalties.”
Penalties weren’t the only breakdown for Tennessee. The Bears’ next score came on a punt blocked out of the end zone by Roy Robertson-Harris that pushed the lead to 9-0. Connor Barth then added a 41-yard field goal.
While the Bears were adding on to their lead in the first half, the Titans sputtered all the way around, gaining just five first downs.
Tennessee’s best scoring chance came down 9-0 and with the offense in a third-and-31 hole, thanks to penalties. Mariota completed a seam pass to Taywan Taylor down the left side for a 48-yard gain. It set up a 40-yard field goal try, but Ryan Succop was wide left on the kick. It was his second miss in as many preseason games since regular long snapper Beau Brinkley was sidelined with a groin injury.
The Titans had the starting offense play two more series in the game, even stretching one play into the fourth quarter as the starters finally reached the end zone on the toss from Mariota to Henry.
No sooner had the Titans finally gotten on the scoreboard than the Bears answered with Mitch Trubisky, Chicago’s No. 1 pick, hooked up with receiver Tanner Gentry for a 45-yard touchdown pass to make the score, 19-7.
Mariota, who finished his day 12 of 21 for 193 yards with the one touchdown, said the Titans have plenty to clean up before the Raiders visit in the regular season opener.
“We play a game in two weeks, and we have to be ready and we will,” Mariota said.