NASHVILLE – It is not often that the Tennessee Titans host an NFC opponent in Week 1 of the NFL season. Yet that is the case Sunday when they face the Arizona Cardinals.
It marks the third time since Nissan Stadium opened in 1999 that such a scenario has taken place. The last was in 2016, when the Titans lost 25-16 to the Minnesota Vikings. The only other time was 2002, a 27-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
In their first three seasons under coach Mike Vrabel, the Titans have gone 9-3, but the NFC West, which includes the Cardinals (and next week’s opponent, the Seattle Seahawks), is the only division Tennessee has not faced under Vrabel.
Last season the Titans faced just one NFC team prior to November.
Series history: The Cardinals lead the all-time series 7-4, have won the last two and three of four during the Titans era (1999-present). In 2009, the Titans won 20-17 at Nissan Stadium when quarterback Vince Young led an 18-play, 99-yard drive capped by a game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt as time expired.
Familiar faces: Arizona features two former Houston Texans who routinely presented problems for the Titans over the years. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has 83 receptions for 1,313 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games against Tennessee (6.4 receptions, 101 yards per game). Defensive end J.J. Watt, in his first season with Arizona, has 18 sacks, nine forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and even a touchdown reception in 15 meetings.
They said it: “I think you have to be careful doing too much early in the season. You have to go out there and let these guys’ base rules and fundamentals take over. Sit there and say, ‘Hey, this is what you are going to get,’ because I don’t think anybody knows exactly what you are going to get. We can try to narrow it down for them and understand the concepts they may see, but to say 100 percent or 90 percent be able to say, ‘Hey, you are going to get this,’ you can’t. There is just not enough evidence on film.” – Vrabel, on the challenge of playing in Week 1.
On to kickoff.
The Cardinals won the coin toss and deferred their option to the second half. Tennessee will get the ball to start, and we will see Julio Jones in action with Derrick Henry, Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and the rest right off the bat.
The Titans were 9-2 last season when they lost the coin toss.
(13:39) It’s three-and-out on the opening possession. Derrick Henry lost three yards on the first play, got it back with a three-yard reception on the second and then Ryan Tannehill’s pass to Chester Rogers on third down was broken up.
(13:27) It’s a blown coverage on Arizona’s first play and DeAndre Hopkins is wide open for a 38-yard gain to the Titans’ 23.
(9:22) The Cardinals settle for a field goal that gives them the early lead. The optimism that surrounded Tennessee’s pass defense in the preseason already is tempered somewhat. In addition to the Hopkins catch on the first play, that drive included a 21-yard completion to A.J. Green. Scoring drive: 8 plays, 45 yards, 4:05. ARIZONA 3, TENNESSEE 0
(9:17) Henry’s second carry results in his second negative run, a loss of a yard.
(8:36) Chandler Jones blows up Tannehill on a play-action fake, which causes a fumble. The Cardinals recover and it is their ball at the Tennessee 1.
(8:18) After a false start and two incomplete passes, the Cardinals convert with a touchdown pass from Murray to Hopkins. Scoring drive: 3 plays, 1 yard, 0:19. ARIZONA 10, TENNESSEE 0
(7:24) Julio Jones’ first contribution to the Titans is an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play (a seven-yard Henry run) that turns a third-and-1 into a third-and-16. Tannehill is nearly intercepted on the next play, and the Titans punt.
Through three possessions, Tennessee has minus-6 yards of total offense.
(5:26) The defense finally gets a stop with a three-and-out. The offense has a chance to get right back on the field. Nowhere for that unit to go but up from here.
(3:10) A fake punt gives – from their own 26, no less – gives the Titans a first down for the first time. From punt formation, Matthias Farley completes a pass to Amani Hooker for six yards on fourth-and-4.
(1:06) The offense can’t do anything with the gift. Tannehill is sacked on third-and-9 from the 33. Tannehill has been sacked three times and is just 3-for-5 for 15 yards thus far
(0:00) End of the quarter. Total offense so far: Arizona 80, Tennessee -1.
(11:03) That’s two for DeAndre Hopkins. This one is a 17-yard catch-and-run that helps the Cardinals offense overcome a holding penalty two snaps earlier. Two penalties against the Titans defense (pass interference on Jackrabbit Jenkins and offside on Jeffery Simmons) helped keep Arizona moving. Scoring drive: 9 plays, 70 yards, 4:32. ARIZONA 17, TENNESSEE 0
Hopkins has five catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns. It’s the 11th multi-touchdown game of his career, his second against Tennessee.
(10:56) The offense finally gets a first down when Tannehill completes a pass to A.J. Brown for 12 yards on second-and-10.
(9:17) The offense finally gets rolling as a flea-flicker turns into a 39-yard completion to Chester Rogers and the third first down in as many plays. It's first down at the Arizona 11.
(8:50) Julio Jones is targeted for the first time -- and it's in the end zone. The pass is broken up.
(6:54) After Henry is stopped twice from the 1-yard line, Tannehill improvises and runs it in on his own. Tennessee is finally on the board. Scoring drive: 11 plays, 75 yards, 4:09. ARIZONA 17, TENNESSEE 6.
Kicker Michael Badgley, added to the active roster on Friday, missed the PAT. It was wide left.
(6:39) There are no words for this. It was third-and-10. Just watch.
(2:00) Jackrabbit Jenkins is called for facemask penalty and what should have been third-and-7 from the Titans’ 16 turns into a first-and-goal at the Titans’ 8 for the Cardinals.
(1:48) Eight plays after his amazing scramble/completion, Murray runs it in from two yards and Arizona’s lead is now 18, its biggest yet. Scoring drive: 12 plays, 75 yards, 5:06. ARIZONA 24, TENNESSEE 6
(1:44) Julio Jones’ first reception goes for nine yards to start the drive. Tannehill completed throws to five others before Julio.
(0:19) Fans boo as Vrabel sends out the field goal team on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 28. More boos as Badgley misses the kick to the left.
(0:00) End of the half. Total offense: Arizona 255, Tennessee 116. First downs: Arizona 14, Tennessee 8. Time of possession: Arizona 15:41, Tennessee 14:19.
Derrick Henry has eight yards on nine carries.
Arizona gets the ball to start the second half.
Tennessee trailed by 17 or more at halftime twice last year. In both cases, it outscored the opponent in the second half … but lost the game (Pittsburgh and Cleveland).
(13:54) Kevin Byard injects some energy into things when he ends the opening possession of the second half with an interception and gives the ball to the offense at the Arizona 32. Byard now has as many interceptions this season as he did all of the last one.
(12:59) Two plays. Two completions to A.J. Brown. Touchdown. It's a 19-yard connection for the score. Scoring drive: 2 plays, 32 yards, 0:47. ARIZONA 24, TENNESSEE 13
The Titans announce that safety Amani Hooker has a foot injury. His return is questionable. At this point, Hooker is tied for the team lead with six tackles, one short of his career-high. Bradley McDougald replaces him.
(11:54) Trainers come out to attend to outside linebacker Harold Landry and defensive lineman Teair Tart. Both walk off the field, Landry with much greater ease than Tart.
(10:45) Christian Kirk beats rookie Elijah Molden and then does his best Willie Mays impression on a 26-yard touchdown reception. Scoring drive: 6 plays, 75 yards, 2:15. ARIZONA 31, TENNESSEE 13
That’s three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown for Kyler Murray so far. And there are more than 25 minutes remaining.
(10:40) The Titans start this drive with Kendall Lamm at left tackle in place of Taylor Lewan.
Lamm is called for a false start before the first snap.
(9:19) Tannehill's pass for Julio is high, deflected and intercepted. Arizona will start again at its own 47.
(9:09) The defense finally gets Murray to the ground in the backfield. Credit Jeffery Simmons with the sack, which forces a punt after a three-and-out.
(8:25) Lewan is riding the bike on the sideline trying to stay loose. Lamm is still in at left tackle as this drive commences.
Derrick Henry finally finds room to run. His 19-yard run on the first play after the punt gets the ball to the Tennessee 29 and gives the offense some room to work. Before that, he had rushed for nine yards on 10 carries.
(5:28) After five straight Henry runs for 38 yards, Tennessee is forced to throw on third-and-8 from its own 43. For the second time today, Tannehill fumbles when he is sacked and the Cardinals recover at the Titans’ 33.
Tannehill has been sacked four times, has lost two fumbles and has thrown an interception.
(3:11) In the first half, DeAndre Hopkins caught two touchdown passes in a span of 12:12. In the second half, it’s Christian Kirk with two in a span of 7:34 as Arizona converts another takeaway into points. Scoring drive: 4 plays, 33 yards, 2:12. ARIZONA 38, TENNESSEE 13
The Titans say Lewan had cramps. He returns to the game.
(0:49) Vrabel elects to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Arizona 49. Tannehill is sacked again. He holds on to the ball this time, but the ball goes to the Cardinals on downs.
That is five sacks for the Cardinals -- all by Chandler Jones.
Tannehill was not sacked more than three times in a game last season, and it took five games for him to go down five times.
(0:00) End of quarter. The best the Titans can hope now is to get to this game without anyone getting seriously injured.
(11:04) Arizona takes time off the clock but does not add to its lead. Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal attempt misses to the right after a seven-play possession that lasted 4:40.
(9:22) Somebody other than Jones finally sacks Tannehill. It’s defensive lineman Michael Dogbe, which makes it third-and-12 from the Arizona 41.
(8:17) The Titans are now 1-for-3 on fourth down after Tannehill’s pass to A.J. Brown on fourth-and-5 from the Arizona 34 is well off the mark. The one conversion, of course, was the fake punt.
(2:07) Arizona punts for just the third time. This time it took 6:19 off the clock before it gave the ball back to Tennessee. The end is now in sight.
(0:00) End of the game.
For the game, Tennessee was outgained 416-252. The defense allowed seven third-down conversions on 13 attempts and Michael Badgley was a disaster at kicker.
Tannehill was 21-35 for 212 yards with one touchdown and one interception plus a rushing touchdown. But he was sacked six times, two of which resulted in lost fumbles.
Henry rushed for 58 yards on 17 carries. Chester Rogers and A.J. Brown had four receptions apiece, but Rogers had a team-high 62 yards. Jackrabbit Jenkins led the defense with eight tackles.
The Titans bandwagon, which filled up during the offseason, is going to have a lot more room after this one. Many expected the offense to be virtually unstoppable, but it looked disorganized and was ineffective most of the day. The defense built a lot of momentum throughout the preseason but was no match for Murray and his array of weapons.
There is no doubt, Tennessee is better than this. But it was bad way to start a season.