NASHVILLE — Music City might be the home of country music, but the New York Jets departed here Monday night with a case of the blues.
Call them the playoff blues.
With their 14-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at a sold-out and soggy LP Field, the Jets (6-8) saw their flickering playoff hopes extinguished in what turned out to be a comedy of errors for the visitors down the stretch.
“Obviously, it’s a devastating loss, out of the playoffs, and it hurts beyond belief,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “I think the thing that really hurts the most is we got no one to blame but ourselves.”
Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez continued his season-long poor play by throwing four interceptions and fumbling a low snap late in the game. The follies gave Sanchez 11 turnovers in the past four games.
The most damaging turnovers Monday night came on the Jets’ last two possessions. After guiding the Jets from their own 8-yard-line to the Titans’ 23, Sanchez floated an errant pass over the middle that was picked off by Titans free safety Michael Griffin at the Titans’ 2-yard-line with less than two minutes to play.
After the Titans were held on downs, punter Brett Kern’s 19-yard punt gave the Jets the ball at the Titans’ 25 with 47 seconds remaining. But Sanchez fumbled away a low snap on the first play of the drive to thwart any chance of a late comeback.
In all, the Jets had five offensive possessions in the fourth quarter, but would fail to score the go-ahead touchdown on any of them, thanks in large part to three turnovers in the frame. For the night, Sanchez completed 13 of 28 passes for 131 yards and posted a lowly 32.6 passer rating.
“As big as this game is, I mean it was a huge game for us,” Ryan said, “and to turn it over five times, to get the ball on the 25-yard line with a chance to win it at the end and then turn it over again, obviously, it was extremely disappointing, to say the least.”
The victory halted a downward slide for the Titans (5-9), who had lost three games in a row and five of their last six before Monday. Running back Chris Johnson led the Titans with 122 rushing yards on 21 carries, highlighted by a 94-yard scoring jaunt — the franchise’s longest — in the second quarter. The play extended his NFL-record total of scoring runs of 80 yards or longer to six.
“Anytime you can get five turnovers in a game, it’s a great thing,” Titans second-year coach Mike Munchak said. “And the other side of it, we didn’t have turnovers. That usually means you win the football game by more points”
While the Jets were committing five turnovers, the Titans played error free. Ironically, the Titans didn’t score any points off Jets turnovers, but they did prevent the Jets from scoring on several occasions.
Trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter, the Jets took advantage of a short field to score the go-ahead touchdown. After a 30-yard punt by Kern gave the Jets the ball at the Titans’ 35-yard line, the Jets scored four plays later when Sanchez connected on a 17-yard scoring pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland.
But the Titans answered on the ensuing possession with a touchdown of their own to retake the lead at 14-10. Second-year Titans quarterback Jake Locker completed passes of 21, 12 and 13 yards before capping off the seven-play, 64-yard drive with a 13-yard scoring sweep around the left side. For the game, Locker completed 13 of 22 passes for 149 yards with no touchdown passes or interceptions.
“When we had to score, we finally put a drive together when they finally took the lead,” Munchak said. ” … We made plays that we probably should have made all day long, but we made them when we had to.”
The Jets, in search of anything to get the offense going, even gave us a Tim Tebow quarterback sighting for a full offensive possession midway through the second quarter. On the possession following Johnson’s scoring run, Tebow took all of the snaps from the shotgun and led the Jets to two first downs, including one on a 12-yard keeper by Tebow around the right side. But the drive stalled with Tebow being sacked on a play that was followed by a penalty and incomplete pass.
“I am not ready to say who will be our quarterback next game,” Ryan replied when asked who would start Sunday against San Diego. “I am not ready to do that.”
In a rather uneventful first half, one major happening provided the difference for the Titans staking a 7-3 lead by intermission. And for the fourth straight game, the Jets did not score a first-half touchdown.
After the teams were stopped on their second possessions with the Jets leading 3-0, the Titans appeared stymied deep in their own territory after a 53-yard punt by Jets punter Robert Malone put the Titans back at their own 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Johnson raced untouched through the middle of the Jets’ defense on a 94-yard scoring gallop that was the longest scoring run in franchise history. Johnson had 106 rushing yards in the first half, but the nine other carries produced only 12 yards.
Each team showed the ability to move the ball on their opening possession. The difference: The Jets’ scored on a 22-yard field goal by Nick Folk to take an early 3-0 lead; the Titans were blanked deep in Jets’ territory on the game’s opening possession.
The Jets’ score came after what appeared to be a 4-yard scoring pass from Sanchez to tight end Jeff Cumberland was originally ruled complete but later overturned on a replay review.
The Titans took the opening kickoff from their own 22-yard line and, bolstered by a 30-yard pass over the middle from Locker to receiver Nate Washington, advanced to the Jets’ 18 before an ill-fated toss sweep to Johnson lost 10 yards and put the Titans in a fourth-and-11 from the Jets’ 28. But Rob Bironas’ 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson.