NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans almost got away with it Sunday afternoon. The paltry three first downs and zero points in the opening half. All those dropped passes for a fifth straight week by the wayward wideout Kenny Britt. Last week's hip injury to quarterback to Jake Locker, which kept him in street clothes for the entire game against Kansas City, and quite likely for the two games to follow at Seattle and against San Francisco.
Somehow, some way, they almost overcame it all, surprisingly turning a 0-13 halftime hole into a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then reality set in. You just don't knock off the undefeated Chiefs in the season's fifth week when your 30-year-old journeyman quarterback from Harvard leads you in rushing. Especially when that same quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, pretty much cancels out his lone touchdown pass with two interceptions.
Yes, Fitzpatrick's gritty and smart and experienced. He scrambled one time for 26 yards and scored the Titans' go-ahead TD on a nervy 9-yard run eight seconds into the final period.
But he was also on the field when the Titans failed to score from the KC 1, despite having 1st and goal. Fitzpatrick even caught his own pass on one of those plays, his throw bouncing off a defender and back into his hands. Good reflexes, but a bad time to have to display them.
That was also the moment in the second quarter when you realized that Locker wasn't the only offensive skill player the Titans desperately missed. Power back Shonn Greene, sidelined with a bad knee, might have had the muscle to get that final yard at the goal line were he healthy. But he wasn't. So Kansas City scored 13 points in the fourth quarter on a touchdown and two field goals (neither of them by Jan Stenerud, somewhat amazingly) and won 26-17, dropping the Titans to 3-2 on the season.
"We were lucky that we were only down by 13-0 at halftime after seven points were a giveaway (a muffed punt return that the Chiefs fell on the end zone for the game's first points)," said Titans coach Mike Munchak. "This one hurts because we know we can play a lot better. There were plays there to make and we didn't."
But at least a couple of guys with Tennessee ties -- University of Tennessee ties, that is -- walked out of LP Field with giant smiles on their faces.
Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry and rookie quarterback Tyler Bray are enjoying quite a fall together, even if Bray was on the inactive list against the Titans.
"It's been great," said Bray, who said watching the Vols' loss to Georgia on Saturday "was tough. But they played hard, especially [QB] Justin [Worley]. He's getting more comfortable with that offense every week."
Said Berry, "I was glued to the television. It didn't go our way, but I was so proud of my university, how hard we played. They never quit fighting."
He was also a little envious upon seeing the smokey gray uniforms the Vols wore.
"Yeah, I was a little jealous," he said. "I really like those. But I liked the way we played more."
Bray appears heavier than when he left UT last fall at the end of his junior year.
"Yeah, I'm about 230 right now," said Bray, whose last trip to LP Field was as the starting QB for UT in the 2010 Music City Bowl loss to North Carolina. "I actually got as high as 245. I was eating a lot of bad food. But I've dropped about 15 pounds and I feel pretty good. I'm just so happy to be with these players, Coach [Andy] Reid and this staff. I love being on this team."
Berry -- whose college career ended at the close of the Music City Bowl -- loved being back in the Volunteer state.
"My mom and a bunch of family and friends came up from Atlanta, and a bunch of people came over from Knoxville," he said. "And I was lucky because my mother took care of rounding up most of the tickets. I just know it was great to be back in Tennessee."
Bray -- who visited with former Vols teammate and current Titans rookie Justin Hunter this weekend -- was asked if he ever wishes he'd stayed at UT for his senior season.
"You can't look to the past," he said. "CP's [Cordarrelle Patterson] gone. Justin's here. I think we all just got so tired of change. Sometimes change is good, but it seemed like there were coaching changes every year. It was just time to move on."
Which is exactly what Munchak plans to do with a trip to once-beaten Seattle on tap for Sunday.
Said Munch: "We have to reload, have a good week and play much better next weekend."
If Britt finally follows that formula, the Titans just might have a chance.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...