NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Tennessee Titans closed the book on the 2020 season, it was clear they needed pass-rush help. Tennessee recorded 19 sacks all of last season, which ranked third-worst in the league. However, thanks to some offseason additions, 2021 was much different.
General manager Jon Robinson went out and landed two defensive stars in free agency in Bud Dupree and Denico Autry, and also saw big improvements from Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry III. The Titans finished the regular season with 43 sacks, which was tied for ninth in the league. In fact, the Titans were the only team in the NFL who had three players record eight or more sacks this season. That defense stood tall in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals, despite Saturday's 19-16 divisional round upset loss thanks to a Cincinnati walk-off field goal.
The Titans sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow nine times, which tied a single-game NFL playoff record. Tennessee also became the first team to lose a playoff game while recording nine sacks since the 1970 merger. Despite fixing one of their biggest weaknesses from last year, the Titans ended the 2021 season just like they ended the 2020 season -- losing a playoff game at home.
Following the loss, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was understandably frustrated. When he was asked if he was surprised that recording nine sacks wasn't enough to win the game, Vrabel took a bit of a shot at reporters.
"Last year you talked about all the sacks we didn't have, and you guys somehow think that sacks lead to victories. They're great. Talk about how many we had this year, but I like turnovers and interceptions and caused fumbles. Maybe we had too many sacks this year," Vrabel quipped.
There is no one scapegoat for the Titans' loss. Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, Todd Downing's offensive play-calling was questionable and Vrabel's decisions to go for two following a defensive penalty on an extra-point try and on fourth-and-short in the fourth quarter backfired. Vrabel simply said that the Titans were on "the wrong side of a tight game."
Vrabel's "too many sacks" remark isn't just a stray bullet aimed at those who thought the pass rush was what was holding this team back from a Super Bowl. It was him saying that winning football games takes execution from many facets of a team. There's not much more you could have asked from the Titans' defense on Saturday, but a sputtering offense that turned the ball over on 27% of its possessions eventually kicked the No. 1-seed Titans out of the postseason.