Thursday's showcase in Pittsburgh was supposed to be a day the Titans showed they're a real contender in the AFC playoff race. Instead, the Titans got walloped in the second half by a Steelers touchdown party in a 40-17 loss.
Marcus Mariota threw four interceptions. The Titans secondary broke down, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to complete 20 of 23 passes for 184 yards and three TDs in the second half. And the offensive line allowed five sacks and nine quarterback hits.
Thursday's game illustrated the Titans remain a work in progress against the big-boy teams of the AFC.
For Tennessee players, however, the loss is best set aside, not contemplated as a macro-level referendum. Left tackle Taylor Lewan dismissed the idea that the Steelers were a measuring stick for the young Titans.
"I don't really like to talk about measuring sticks even if we won," he said, via the team's official website. "I don't like dealing with measuring sticks or this or that or the other thing. It is a loss. I hate to lose. Last year it was the thing we wanted to be in the position we are now. Now we got a divisional opponent next week. Guys need to get healthy, and we have an extra couple days to get healthy which is great. Go in and get yourself a W. Like I said before, I think we are going to see these guys again and when we do, hopefully we will be ready and get a different result."
If the Titans were measured, they were found wanting. The offensive was particularly bad versus a stingy Steelers D. The O-line struggled. Mariota stared down too many receivers and threw several tosses behind his targets. The wideouts (especially first-round rookie Corey Davis) didn't help by running poor routes and suffered from untimely drops. The run game was nonexistent, with DeMarco Murray earning eight runs for 10 yards (1.3 yards per carry) and Derrick Henry just seven for 32 (4.6 YPC).
When asked if Tennessee was putting too much on Mariota's plate, Lewan fired back.
"That is literally an answer that I will never answer," the former first-round pick said. "I shouldn't be asked because like I said I'm a left tackle. The concepts I know are very little. I know what I have on each play, and do my best to be the best tackle in the NFL consistently. I try to do my job."
Lewan's job is to block, something the team as a unit didn't do too well. Steelers bulldozers Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt collapsed the pocket against the interior of the Titans' offensive line. The line has struggled in recent weeks, allowing nine sacks the past two games and struggling to open running lanes.
"I don't know to be totally honest with you," Lewan replied when asked about the O-line's struggles. "Like I said before, it's a team sport and we win as a team and lose as a team. That kind of situation, I don't really know. My job each and every game is to be the best left tackle I can possibly be, and to be a consistent blocker."
The Titans couldn't live up to the expectations under the bright lights in Pittsburgh. Despite the loss, Tennessee remains in the playoff hunt at 6-4 in a weak AFC. With tilts versus the Colts, Texans, Cardinals and 49ers on deck, the Titans should hit a win streak. In reality, a loss to any of those squads would be more disappointing than getting blown out by the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
If all goes according to script, the Titans will have another chance to measure themselves in the AFC playoffs.