NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans experienced the best and worst of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Sunday’s 26-17 loss to visiting Kansas City.
Granted, the nine-year NFL veteran — and four-year starter with Buffalo from 2009-12 — was thrust from backup to starter when Titans quarterback Jake Locker was lost for a month or so, after sustaining a hip injury suffered in last week’s blowout win over the Jets.
But for Fitzpatrick, this Sunday at sold-out LP Field, call it the good, the bad and the ugly.
Better yet, transpose the good and the bad, because the Titans offense was certainly bad in the first half, good for parts of the third and fourth quarters, before it turned ugly in the end. To wit …
Tennessee opened with five straight offensive possessions without a first down. And when they did get something going, the Titans couldn’t score a touchdown on four tries from the Chiefs’ 1-yard line, midway through the second quarter, and ended up trailing 13-0 by halftime.
“Yeah, the slow start, I just didn’t play well early,” said Fitzpatrick, who missed on his first six pass attempts. “I was trying to feel the game out rather than go out there and taking it. I think that was part of it.”
The Titans (3-2) finally came to life on their sixth possession, sparked by a 37-yard run by backup tailback Jackie Battle and a pass from Fitzpatrick to tight end Delanie Walker, setting up 1st and goal from the 1.
But they couldn’t score on four plays from the 1 and came away with no points.
Not that the Chiefs (5-0) were running up and down the field on the Titans. The lone touchdown of the first half came on a fumble recovery in the end zone, after a Chiefs punt bounced off the leg of Titans defender Damian Williams before being pounced upon by Marcus Cooper.
Other than that, Kansas City had to settle for field goals of 29 and 24 yards by kicker Ryan Succop, the latter of which came with just nine seconds left in the first half.
“The defense played well in the first half and kept us (in) like they have been doing all year,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak, whose team plays at Seattle next Sunday.
On their first possession of the second half, the Titans did something they couldn’t do earlier — find the end zone. Three plays after Fitzpatrick raced 26 yards to near midfield after being flushed from the pocket, he eluded a sack and shuttled a pass to Chris Johnson, who raced 49 yards untouched to the end zone.
Suddenly, the Titans found themselves trailing by only six early in the third quarter after a first half of offensive futility. In fact, the 82-yard scoring drive was only one yard less than Tennessee’s entire first-half tally.
“Really, some of those plays were broken plays,” Munchak said of the offensive surge in the second half. “It was guys hustling. (Fitzpatrick) had a couple nice runs when there was nobody open. He found lanes and took off and got the chains going.
“… That kind of sparked us. That drive to get the touchdown got us going.”
After Tennessee stopped Kansas City on its first possession of the second half, the Titans drove deep into Chiefs territory to set up a 22-yard field goal by kicker Rob Bironas, cutting their deficit to three (13-10). The two big plays on the drive were Fitzpatrick connecting with receiver Kendall Wright for 15 and 24 yards.
The Titans finally took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when Fitzpatrick, flushed from the pocket, raced straight up the gut from nine yards out. The Titans were set up at the Kansas City 42 when strong safety Bernard Pollard intercepted a pass from Alex Smith that sailed over intended receiver Jamaal Charles out of the backfield.
“The frustrating thing was we got the ball back a couple more times and settled for field goals,” Munchak said. “That’s what kind of made it difficult because we really had that window of opportunity in the third quarter (and) early fourth to put more points on the board than we did.”
Kansas City finally got rolling again in the fourth quarter, driving 66 yards to retake the lead at 20-17 on a 1-yard plunge by Charles, who led all rushers with 108 yards on 22 carries. The big play involved a controversial personal foul called on Titans linebacker Moise Fokou, who hit Smith as he was racing for a first down along the right sideline.
It appeared Smith would be three yards short of the first down at the Titans’ 39, which would have probably forced the Chiefs to punt. Instead, Kansas City got the ball at the 27, and six plays later Kansas City scored what would eventually be the game-winning touchdown.
‘I think that’s big,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of the poise of Smith, who completed 20 of 39 passes for 245 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 60.3 rating. The Chiefs host Oakland on Sunday.
“The players are all looking at him,” Reid added. “They look at him every snap. That’s their leader out there.”
Often bitten by the interception bugaboo over his career, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter … while the game was very much within reach.
Trailing 20-17 with 6:23 remaining, the Titans needed Fitzpatrick to mount a drive to at least get into field-goal range. But on the first play from scrimmage, Cooper out-wrestled Titans receiver Nate Washington for an interception at the Titans’ 33.
But the defense kept it a one-possession game, limiting the Chiefs to a 33-yard field goal from Succop. Rookie defensive end Lavar Edwards deflected a third-down pass by Smith from the Titans’ 15 to force the field goal.
Tennessee still had plenty of time to drive for a possible game-winning touchdown; but on the fourth play of the next possession, Fitzpatrick was intercepted again. This time, he threw late deep over the middle.
Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers deflected the ball into the hands of teammate Quintin Demps, who returned the ball to the Titans’ 33. Four players later, Succop put the game out of reach at 26-17 with his fourth field goal of the day — a 48-yarder with 2:17 remaining.
Fitzpatrick said both passes that resulted in interceptions were thrown behind the receivers. But all in all, Fitzpatrick felt there were enough positives to enter a second week as the starter on an uptick.
“It takes a little bit of timing, but I thought there were some good things,” said Fitzpatrick, who completed 21 of 41 passes for 247 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 57.7 rating.
“Obviously, (there are) a lot of things to work on, but there’s some good things that came out of today, especially with the way some of the guys … stepped up and played.”