The ball and nearly all 22 players on the field at the snap for the final play Sunday were near the Tennessee Titans sideline at the moment time ran out and even the slimmest hope vanished.
All the way across the field, near the Cincinnati sideline, was Titans running back Chris Johnson.
“On that play the ball was supposed to come to me first and then [I] toss it to [Lavelle Hawkins] and then [have] him actually throwing it back to me,” Johnson explained following the 24-17 loss in a game Tennessee led by 10 at halftime. “But how it worked out … he got it first and I still went to the other side of the field. He still had the option to throw it back to me, but I guess he just didn’t see me.”
The offense, with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, has made a habit this season of scoring touchdowns in the final minute of the first half. Five times in eight games, to be precise, it has happened, including Sunday when Hasselbeck threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hawkins eight seconds before intermission.
The first time the need arose to do the same at the end of the game, though, things did not turn out nearly as well.
Granted, the situation was dire. Tennessee had the ball at its own 20 with no timeouts, 1:55 on the clock and in need of seven points simply to force overtime. In six plays, though, the offense gained just 18 yards, which set the stage for the final, desperate play that was supposed to include multiple passes.
“It’s kind of a desperation play,” right guard Jake Scott said. “We were just hoping to lateral it around a few times and get somebody in the open field and break loose. It’s the last play of the game. It’s a desperation play … and it just didn’t work out.”
Earlier against the Bengals, the Titans went 81 yards in 12 plays and used all but eight seconds of the final 2:55 of the second quarter for a touchdown that gave them a 17-7 advantage. Hasselbeck completed seven of 10 passes on that drive, which included a pair of third-down conversions.
Similarly, they scored touchdowns with eight seconds remaining in the second quarter against Baltimore, with 33 seconds to go against Cleveland and with 22 seconds left against Indianapolis — all on touchdown passes, all to different receivers. They also got a go-ahead field goal with 1:11 to play before halftime against Denver.
Tennessee won all four of those games and trailed in the second half of only one (Denver).
Sunday, though, was the first time the offense was in that position with the game on the line. Facing a defense willing to trade yards for time off the clock, only one of Hasselbeck’s four completions prior to the last play, went for more than 10 yards,
A false start penalty against Hawkins on an attempted spike to stop the clock and a sack of Hasselbeck set the Titans back 12 yards. The penalty also required 10 seconds to be run off the clock, as did a hip injury sustained by wide receiver Nate Washington on the first play, which caused play to stop.
“Getting the run-off and getting the injury hurt us,” coach Mike Munchak said. “… The injury we can’t do much about. … That was unfortunate that Nate got hurt at that time and couldn’t get off of the field. [Hawkins] was just not being smart, you just don’t move. You stand still on a kill to make sure that there is not a problem so that worst case if there is an illegal formation there is not a run-off, just a five-yard penalty.
“Things like that, that was probably the sloppiest of the things we did. That run-off shouldn’t happen.”
Still, it was not as if they came close otherwise.
“[Hasselbeck] is trying to find guys and it’s hard when guys are dropping deep,” Munchak said. “It’s about making decisions. There were some opportunities, I would think, to get down the field better than we did, but we didn’t.
“We didn’t make plays at the end, they stopped us and they get the credit for the win.”
• The NFL moved the Titans’ game Nov. 20 from noon to 3:15 p.m. (CST) as part of the league’s flex scheduling option designed to get the best games each weekend better television exposure. Flex scheduling begins with Week 10.
The Titans’ original schedule included 15 noon starts among its 16 games.
• The New England Patriots released former Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who had six tackles in six games with his third NFL team.