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NASHVILLE – In the closing moments of the Tennessee Titans’ overtime loss at Kansas City on Sunday, A.J. Brown couldn’t keep his thumbs to himself.

The former Titans wide receiver sent out a laughing “Ain’t nobody open” tweet as he watched rookie quarterback Malik Willis – scrambling away from Chiefs defenders – search unsuccessfully for open targets downfield.

Titans fans understandably are irked by Brown’s continuous need to jab at his old team, but there’s no denying the massive difference his absence has made in the team’s passing attack this season.

Through the first eight games of 2021, for example, Titans wide receivers combined for 96 catches, 1,302 yards (a 13.6 yards-per-catch average) and seven touchdowns.

Through the first eight games of this season, Titans wide receivers have combined for just 51 catches, 658 yards (a 12.9 yards-per-catch average) and one touchdown. That’s 45 fewer catches, 644 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns over the first half of the season.

The lack of production without Brown has been an issue all season, but it’s received even more attention in recent weeks:

On Oct. 30, the now-Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver hauled in six passes for career-highs of 156 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Pittsburgh. Brown ranks sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (718), fifth in average yards per catch (16.7) and is tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (six).

Meanwhile last Sunday, Titans wide receivers didn’t contribute a single catch (on five targets), becoming just the fourth NFL team in the last 20 seasons to go through a game without a wide receiver reception, per ESPN Stats and Info.

“(Willis) … made some opportunities, took some chances down the field and we didn't come down with them,” coach Mike Vrabel said of the wide receivers. “We have to continue to work try to create some separation when we're getting matched, which we have been. Then, being good in zones when we are snapping down, the timing with the quarterback … We'll keep searching and keep trying to find ways to help us score points most importantly, and help us win.”

Are there additional circumstances that have factored into the Titans’ lack of production at wide receiver? Absolutely.

Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill has missed the last two games, and the inexperienced Willis has had a predictably bumpy start to his NFL career. Also, the Titans have been without two rookie wide receivers – first-round pick Treylon Burks and fifth-round pick Kyle Philips – for four games each.

But how crazy is it that Burks (10 catches) and Philips (eight catches) still rank second and third, respectively, among Titans wide receivers in receptions, despite missing half the season?

How crazy is it that the Titans’ most productive wide receiver, Robert Woods, ranks 62nd among NFL wide receivers with 22 catches, 65th in receiving yards with 256?

In looking back at general manager Jon Robinson’s decision to trade Brown to Philadelphia during last April’s NFL Draft, it was clear the two sides hadn’t been able to find common ground on a new contract, and clear that Brown wanted to move on as a result.

The Titans – in exchange for Brown and the 26th overall pick of the draft – wound up with Burks, Philips, starting cornerback Roger McCreary and starting right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. They also opened up a boatload of salary-cap space in years to come. It’s a good haul that should look even better in time.

But as the Titans stumble and bumble in search of a productive passing attack this season, it’s easy to see why Brown feels like he’s already getting the last laugh.