NASHVILLE — Sunday was Tennessee Titans offensive left tackle Taylor Lewan's first time on the playing field this season after a four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
But the Titans' 14-7 loss to visiting Buffalo was an outcome Lewan has viewed too many times, both this season and in previous years.
"It's getting out of hand," said the sixth-year pro out of Michigan. "We've got to be better."
If next Sunday's game at Denver follows an all-too-familiar script, the Titans will beat the Broncos, then lose at home to the Los Angeles Chargers — because Tennessee hasn't won a home game yet, falling to both the Indianapolis Colts and the Bills within the supposedly friendly confines of Nissan Stadium.
This one was particularly painful, however, given that the Titans had won a week earlier at Atlanta and also moved the ball well enough against the salty Buffalo defense to position themselves for four makeable field-goal attempts.
Alas, Titans replacement kicker Cairo Santos missed three of those and had the other blocked as Tennessee not so patiently awaits veteran kicker Ryan Succop's return from a knee injury that will keep him off the roster until the ninth game of the season.
"Never had a day like this," Santos said afterward. "Have been bouncing around with teams for a couple of years and just haven't had a performance like this."
The Titans, of course, seem to have lots of these performances. They've gone 9-7 each of the past three seasons, turning the second of those in 2017 into both a playoff berth and a wild-card weekend win before Mike Mularkey was fired as coach after a second-round playoff loss in a game hosted by the New England Patriots.
In Mularkey's place has come Mike Vrabel, who once won a Super Bowl as a Patriots linebacker and who beat last year's eventual Super Bowl champions when they visited Nashville in early November. But good as that win was, it wasn't enough to offset the team's seven losses, the Titans eventually coming one win shy of reaching the playoffs.
Because of that, the team has spoken often of wanting to be great instead of good this season.
Asked Sunday how that was going, veteran defensive lineman Jurrell Casey — who was flagged for a costly unnecessary-roughness penalty against Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen in the fourth quarter — replied: "Haven't been great yet."
The defense, which has long been Vrabel's strength, has been close to great all season. Ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring defense (15.5 points per game) entering the fifth week of the season, the Titans certainly did nothing to hurt that standing by holding the Bills to 14 points and 313 total yards.
But the offense was another matter. Matched against a Buffalo defense that stands right behind the Titans in points allowed, Tennessee could produce but 252 total yards, its lone points coming off a 1-yard Derrick Henry touchdown run in the third quarter.
Even the 24 points the Titans scored on the Falcons the weekend before in the Big Peach appear a little less impressive given the 53 the Texans hung on the Falcons in Houston on Sunday.
"We knew this was the kind of game it was going to be," Vrabel said. "But we didn't play well enough. We didn't coach well enough."
It would be hard to argue that. It would be similarly hard to argue that this team, as it's currently constructed, can ever become great rather than merely good.
"The defense is playing outstanding," said quarterback Marcus Mariota, before pointing the finger at himself and the offense. "We've got to carry our weight and score more points."
Had they merely hit three of those four-field goal tries, they would have had enough points to win this one and silence the immense number of boisterous Bills fans who filled at least 40% of Nissan's seats.
Instead, they now stand 2-3.
"We've got to find a way to go to Denver and win," Vrabel said. "We've got to get better quickly."
If this season is to ever have a chance of being labeled great, they've got to find a way to do more than get better. They've got to find a way to stay there once they arrive, rather than always playing worse the week after they seem to be getting better.