NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the Tennessee Titans to turn their franchise from the NFL’s worst losers to winners, they have to figure out how to protect a lead.
That makes taking better care of the football a priority.
The Titans opened the season by jumping out to a 10-0 halftime lead and shut down Adrian Peterson, who led the NFL in rushing last season. Then they blew a chance at their first home win over a team not named Jacksonville since the end of the 2013 season by losing three turnovers in the span of four possessions. The Vikings returned two of those for touchdowns in beating Tennessee 25-16.
Coach Mike Mularkey believes he’s achieved at least one milestone for a franchise that has gone 5-27 combined the past two seasons.
“As detrimental as those turnovers were for scores, this team on that sideline still believed we were going to win the game all the way to the end,” Mularkey said Monday. “That’s what you want from your team is a chance, and we still thought we had a chance. We’ve got to do it obviously to confirm that we can do it. But I believe these feel they can win at any time, especially with Marcus (Mariota) as our quarterback.”
Mariota was credited with two of the turnovers and only a roughing the passer penalty negated a second interception. His interception was returned 77 yards for a touchdown, while a ball Mariota tried to pull back from Murray hit the ground where a Vikings defender picked it up and ran 24 yards for another TD.
Ball security was an offseason focus for Mariota coming off a rookie season where the No. 2 pick overall out of Oregon was intercepted 10 times and lost six fumbles. Mularkey said he was impressed with how Mariota threw the ball away earlier in the game.
“This will be a learning experience for Marcus that when he didn’t do it, when he took that chance that play was a game changer,” Mularkey said. “Early leading up to that he hadn’t done that. If there’s somebody on this team that I know will learn and probably not do that again, it’s him.”
Turnovers were a big issue for Tennessee last season as the Titans tied for 30th in the NFL with a minus-14 in turnover differential. Now they’ve started off the season with more turnovers than any other team so far.
Tight end Delanie Walker isn’t worried about turnovers becoming an issue this season. He said more concentration and holding onto the ball will fix that, something he’s confident will take place this week. But he said the Titans never hung their heads or gave up, even after falling behind 25-10 in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee did drive 74 yards for a final touchdown inside the final minute.
“Finishing though is winning games,” Walker said. “That’s the one thing we’re going to have to do is win games.”
Now the challenge increases. The Titans visit Detroit (1-0), the first of three road games over the next month. They are home against Oakland on Sept. 25 before going to Houston and then Miami. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said they’ve got to both clean up the turnovers and force some fumbles and interceptions defensively to win games.
“It’s something that we’ve been dealing with and something we’ve got to continue to try to clean up,” Casey said.
Notes: Mularkey said the Titans don’t think LB Derrick Morgan significantly hurt his left hamstring but will need a couple more days before an MRI exam to know more. … The Titans waived QB Alex Tanney.
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