Skid pins Titans’ hopes of ending playoff drought on finale

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs past Los Angeles Rams defensive end Ethan Westbrooks in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/James Kenney)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The playoff math for the Tennessee Titans couldn’t be simpler now.

A three-game skid equals a regular-season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars with a postseason berth on the line with Tennessee needing a victory to end a postseason drought stretching to 2008.

First, the Titans will need to figure out how to score more touchdowns than field goals after settling far too often Sunday against the high-powered Los Angeles Rams in a 27-23 loss that allowed the Jaguars to clinch the AFC South title.

”We still have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, and that is the next objective,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.

The Titans (8-7) will host Jacksonville in the regular-season finale, and need a win to clinch a playoff berth that would ease the disappointment and frustration of dropping three straight games by a combined 11 points.

”Unfortunately, we kind of put ourselves in this situation,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. ”But we’re in it, and we just got to go out there again, put one together, put a full, complete game together as a team and see what happens.”

On Sunday, the Titans can pin their loss on their struggles inside the Rams 20. Even when they had first-and-goal at the 1 in the first quarter, Tennessee went backward with a penalty and a sack before an incompletion. That forced them to settle for the first of three field goals by Ryan Succop.

”When you play a team that scores a lot of points, you’ve got to score a lot of points, and obviously that was the difference in the game,” Mularkey said.

Tight end Delanie Walker made his frustration even clearer.

”Those are things we can’t have, especially playing a team like the Rams,” Walker said. ”You can’t do that. That shot us in the foot.

Only once did they score inside the red zone with DeMarco Murray running for a 6-yard TD. Tennessee even got its first defensive touchdown of the season with Jurrell Casey forcing the ball away from Jared Goff with Wesley Woodyard picking it up for a 4-yard return for a TD and a 10-6 lead in the second quarter.

That Tennessee lead lasted all of 56 seconds thanks to Todd Gurley II and an 80-yard TD run off a screen pass.

After Murray scored on a 6-yard run, the Titans recovered an onside kick. Succop said the official signaled live ball, so he tried the onside kick to steal a possession.

”When I saw that the Rams weren’t out there, I turned around real quick and saw this was an opportunity to steal a possession,” Succop said. ”Credit to our guys because they were aware. Obviously, that was not called. … I’m not exactly sure what the ruling on it was or why it didn’t count.”

Brynden Trawick recovered for Tennessee as an official threw a flag. Referee Walt Anderson announced the Rams took their first timeout of the game. Then Anderson said there was no timeout because the ball had not been put in play and ”First down.” The Titans kicked deep on the next try.

The ruling cost the Titans the ball and the chance for momentum after tying it up at 20-20.

Mularkey, who also thought his Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern was roughed once and hit twice with no penalties, made his frustration clear with the officiating.

”It was very inconsistent and I’ll say this, that’s been about the most consistent thing they’ve done is be inconsistent. Week in, week out not just here for us for sure,” Mularkey said.

Tennessee still had the ball on the Rams’ side of the field inside the final two minutes. On fourth-and-4, Mariota lost track of Walker for a pass into the flat and threw a pass that fell incomplete under pressure from Connor Barwin.

”I’ve got to be better,” Mariota said.

AP freelance writers Terry McCormick and Brian Hinchman contributed.

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