Tennessee Titans wide receiver Julio Jones sustained another hamstring injury and left Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third quarter. He did not return, and the Titans fell 19-13 when they were outscored 16-0 over the final 18-plus minutes.
Jones played in his second game since he returned from injured reserve, which caused him to miss three contests. He logged a limited number of snaps in his first game back with the idea that his workload would increase over the remainder of the regular season. Now, it is unclear what he might be able to contribute prior to and in the postseason, provided the Titans get there.
Jones was targeted just once in the contest against Pittsburgh, and that pass was incomplete. With that, his streak of 134 straight games played with a reception will come to an end.
It’s been a disappointing season for the seven-time Pro Bowler, who was acquired via trade with Atlanta in the offseason. The hamstring first became an issue early in training camp, and he has played in just eight games, totaling 25 receptions for 369 yards (14.8-yard average) and zero touchdowns. He has yet to play three full games in succession.
“Obviously, we want him out on the field,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “… We were feeling good. He's been moving well all week. We were excited to get him rolling and then, you know, you lose him again. Definitely not where we want to be.”
Jones had six straight seasons with at least 80 catches (2014-19) before injury issues limited him to 51 for 771 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. The 32-year-old missed seven games last season, and he’s already missed six full contests – and parts of several others – this year. He’d only missed four games in the previous six seasons combined.
Tennessee (9-5) also is without their other starting wide receiver, A.J. Brown, who is on injured reserve with a chest injury. The 2020 Pro Bowler missed his third game on Sunday, meaning he’ll be eligible to return from injured reserve Thursday against San Francisco – if he’s deemed ready.
Tennessee’s wide receivers have had difficulty staying healthy this season. In addition to Jones and Brown, the Titans lost Marcus Johnson went he went on injured reserve for a second time this season. Josh Reynolds battled ailments before asking for – and receiving – his release from the team. Rookie receiver Racey McMath only recently returned from a long stint on injured reserve.
When Jones was ruled out against the Steelers, it left the Titans with a receiving corps of McMath, Chester Rogers, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Cody Hollister. Westbrook-Ikhine finished the contest with a team-high 32 yards on four receptions. Rogers had four catches for 30 yards, and Hollister and McMath had one each. McMath’s ended with a fumble, one of three second-half turnovers by Tennessee’s offense.
“I mean, we're ready for anything that comes up,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “That's our job, is to be ready to make sure that there's guys out there that are ready to go whether they had a lot of reps in practice or didn't have a whole lot of reps. Those things happen and we're used to it. And I know that we're ready for it.”
Should Jones’ injury keep him out for future games – and it’s hard to imagine he’d be ready to play as early as Thursday against San Francisco – it might open the door for Golden Tate. A Hendersonville, Tenn. native, Tate was signed to the practice squad in late November but has yet to be elevated for a game. Tate has 695 career catches for 8,278 yards and 46 touchdowns. In 2020, Tate recorded 35 catches for 388 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
As for Jones, the latest injury will continue to raise questions about his long-term status.