Tennessee Titans walloped, 38-13, by Arizona Cardinals in season opener: Our top takeaways

by 24USATVSept. 13, 2021, 1 a.m. 19
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The Tennessee Titans were walloped in their season opener, falling 38-13 to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

Here are five things we learned from the Titans' loss:

The Titans’ offense found some life midway through the second quarter and start of the third period, scoring two touchdowns in three drives. But the overall production was bad, with the Titans' high-powered offense showing rust and looking out of sync.

Entering Sunday, much was made about the lack of practice time for the Titans’ starting offense over the summer. Wide receiver Julio Jones, who signed with the franchise in the offseason, missed three straight weeks. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a nine-day stint on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The starting offensive line had just a few practices together. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was often in and out of practices.

Turns out, that lack of time together was a big deal.

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Tannehill had three turnovers — an interception and two fumbles — including two on back-to-back drives in the third quarter when the offense needed to be perfect to stage a comeback. The offensive line could not block Cardinals outside linebacker Chandler Jones, who had two forced fumbles and five sacks, including three in the first quarter. Tannehill was sacked six times.

The Titans, who were No. 4 in the NFL last season in scoring, produced just two touchdowns.

New-look defense has work to do

The Titans’ defense showed positive strides in the preseason, ranking No. 1 in yards allowed and holding opponents under 20% on third down. Titans coaches and defenders spoke all summer of the confidence and swagger the new-look defense had.

None of that mattered against the Cardinals.

The 38 points the Titans gave up tied for the second-most at home in the Mike Vrabel era, which began in 2018. And the Cardinals converted on key third downs, the Titans' Achilles heel last season. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray connected with receiver Christian Kirk for two touchdowns on third down in what was a back-breaking third quarter for the Titans.

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A play in the second quarter encapsulated Tennessee’s struggles with Murray: With 6:39 left in the period, with the Cardinals facing a third-and-long from their own 25, Murray was scrambling with nowhere to go. The Titans appeared to have him corralled deep in the backfield. But the shifty quarterback saved the play for Arizona, making several Titans defenders miss by reversing field behind the line of scrimmage, backpedaling and throwing a perfect pass to receiver Rondale Moore for 18 yards.

Murray capped that drive with a touchdown, taking it himself off a naked bootleg. He raised the ball into the air after rolling out, knowing he would get into the end zone unbothered.

That summed up the Cardinals’ offense on Sunday: unbothered.

Kicker Michael Badgley, who was signed to the active roster after Sam Ficken was placed on Injured Reserve, struggled in his debut. He missed a field goal and an extra point in the first half.

The Titans appeared to have their kicking woes of the last two seasons figured out with the way Ficken performed in the summer, but Ficken is now out at least three weeks on IR with a groin injury.

Titans star running back Derrick Henry had a few big runs late in the second half, but the game was long over by that point. Henry, after rushing for 2,000 yards last season, was held to 58 yards on 17 carries.

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The Titans’ run game, the strength of the offense, was rendered ineffective like the rest of the unit.

Facing a fourth-and-1 at the 28-yard line in the closing seconds of the first half, the Titans elected for a field goal, which Badgley missed. The Titans would've benefited from an aggressive decision to go for it. They were trailing 24-6 and needed momentum entering the second half.

After the missed kick, the boos rained down from the Nissan Stadium crowd.

The Titans travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday at Lumen Field.

Ben Arthur covers the Tennessee Titans for The USA TODAY Network. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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