As if the loss of two starting linebackers five days earlier was not enough, the Tennessee Titans’ defense also lost its cool Friday.
Each of the San Diego Chargers’ first four touchdown drives included at least one penalty against the Titans’ defense – many of them unforced. The most noteworthy was an unsportsmanlike conduct call against defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil for his complaints about a call which was made moments earlier.
“He got a little excited,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “I don’t know exactly what was said, but I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
San Diego took full advantage of the five first downs (four in the first half) and 74 yards that resulted from flags against the Tennessee defense, which was without leading tackler Keith Bulluck and David Thornton (both injured Sunday against Miami).
The Titans were routed 42-17 at LP Field and allowed more than 40 points to a visiting team for the first time since Oct. 1, 2006 (a 45-14 loss to Dallas).
Cecil was flagged with 5:59 to go in the second quarter after William Hayes was called for roughing the passer on a two-yard completion. Only one snap earlier, San Diego tackle Marcus McNeill was called for holding and the Chargers faced a first-and-20 at their own 38.
The effect of the dual violations – they counted as two first downs – was a first down for San Diego at the Titans’ 30. Six plays later Darren Sproles caught a three-yard touchdown pass and the Titans trailed 21-3.
“Everybody in this organization should be having each other’s back,” defensive tackle Tony Brown said. “Whether it’s a bad call or a good call or something that goes on out on the field.
“It happened, and we just had to come out and stop them. We didn’t.”
The most common violations were for offside/neutral zone infractions by the linemen. There were four in all – against four different players.
“It’s focus and concentration,” Fisher said. “It’s basic football. … There’s no need for that. That’s borderline selfish. We just need to play football, move when the brown thing moves and not guess.”
The first, by defensive end Jacob Ford, came on a third-and-5 and gave the Chargers’ a free first down. Kevin Vickerson and Dave Ball committed the same violation on the same possession, a 13-play, 76-yard drive that ended with LaDainian Tomlinson’s 1-yard touchdown run and a 7-3 San Diego lead.
“We were just so geeked, trying to dig deep trying to find a way to get those guys stopped,” Brown, the fourth to make that mistake, said. “Small things ended up being big for us, and it didn’t help us.”
The only member of the defense who was flagged twice was cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Both were for pass interference, the second of which occurred in the end zone. Tomlinson scored one play after the latter and made it 28-7 with 9:49 to play in the third quarter.
None of the previous eight opponents scored more than 27 points in an entire game.
“We hurt ourselves early,” Finnegan said. “It wasn’t anything they were doing. It was the mistakes we were making – it was an offsides, a defensive penalty, pass interference there by myself.
“… It’s a fine line, and I didn’t get it done (Friday) personally, and that didn’t help the team out one bit.”