NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans realize they have to play better and know exactly what they need to fix.
They also aren't panicking after a one-point loss on the road in one of the NFL's toughest places to play.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that new right guard Daniel Brunskill reminded him after their 16-15 loss in New Orleans that the San Francisco 49ers also lost their opener a year ago and still reached the NFC championship game.
“We need to keep improving," Vrabel said. "And we say this all the time. The teams that improve are going to be the ones that are playing in January.”
The Titans didn't score a single touchdown with Ryan Tannehill playing his worst game. That didn't help an offense that ranked 28th in the NFL last season in scoring.
Vrabel made a bunch of offseason moves in trying to boost the offense, firing coordinator Todd Downing and promoting Tim Kelly along with making other position changes. The Titans held the ball longer than the Saints but settled for three field goals on three drives inside the New Orleans 13.
“If we can get on the right page, we can make a better play out of that and that could have been a deciding factor,” said Brunskill, who played for San Francisco last season.
The defense. Tennessee tied for the 13th-fewest points allowed in 2022, and the points the Titans allowed in New Orleans would've been enough to win 10 games last season and force two other games to overtime. A unit that was the NFL's best against the run held the Saints to 69 yards rushing.
The Titans came up with four sacks and forced two fumbles.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense. When Vrabel decided to let Nick Folk kick his fifth field goal with 2:17 left from the Saints 27, the Titans became the 12th team since 2000 to try a field goal trailing by 4 to 8 points in the final three minutes of regulation. Only Detroit won after making such a decision and needed overtime in 2015 to beat the Bears.
Brunskill is part of a revamped offensive line still working to coordinate depths and timing on pass blocking. Kelly also has to find a better rhythm with three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry and rookie Tyjae Spears. Henry had five carries after halftime, and Spears didn't have one before halftime.
Folk. The 38-year-old made all five field goals after being acquired via trade at the NFL final roster cutdown. Folk made a 58-yarder in pregame warmups, then made kicks of 50, 27, 31, 45 and 29 yards. That's a promise of consistency for a position that has been a big issue going back to the 2019 season.
Tannehill. The 35-year-old in the final year of his contract had just the third game of his career and first since his rookie season with three interceptions and no touchdown passes.
He overthrew tight end Chig Okonkwo on a trick play that would have been a TD and then Spears on the next series with room to run. His pass to receiver Chris Moore in double coverage was underthrown as he missed seeing a wide-open Okonkwo.
“Ryan has to be better,” Vrabel said. "We have to hit guys that are open, and we can’t force the ball into double coverage.”
CB Kristian Fulton had a hamstring issue and returned. He was the defender on the 41-yard completion with 1:55 that allowed the Saints to seal the win. ... S Amani Hooker is in the concussion protocol after being hurt with about two minutes remaining. DT Kyle Peko also was hurt in the fourth quarter.
2 of 12: That was the Titans on third down as they went three-and-out four times. They gained only 2 yards after Hooker recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff. Three drives lasted four plays with one ending on an interception. Vrabel blamed pre-snap penalties for creating too many third-and-longs.
Fix things quickly with the Chargers opening as a three-point road favorite. The Titans' early schedule is not favorable with three of the next four away from Nashville after the home opener.
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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press