NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans took over possession with a short field just once all afternoon Sunday at Nissan Stadium against the Carolina Panthers.
Tennessee got the ball at midfield off a Carolina punt with four seconds left in the first half.
Otherwise, during the course of a 27-10 loss to the undefeated Panthers, Tennessee’s average drive start was just beyond its own 17-yard line.
“It’s very frustrating,” right tackle Byron Bell said. “Against a defense like that, you want to get good field position to keep them on their heels a little bit. Once we start on the 20 or back toward their goal line, they’re going to pin their ears back and bring the house.”
Carolina, meanwhile, had an average drive start of its own 31-yard line, and had only two of 10 drives start inside the 20.
Facing a long field, the Titans managed an early 10-play, 82-yard touchdown drive and a nine-play, 59-yard field goal drive.
Outside of that, there were four first downs and a ton of issues getting things moving.
Running back and return man Dexter McCluster was anointed a captain by Mike Mularkey right after he took over as the team’s interim coach. But McCluster provided no hint that a spark in the return game is about to arrive.
It’s easy to say he should take a knee and the Titans should be happy with a touchback and a drive starting at the 20-yard line. But seemingly by design, Panthers kicker Graham Gano put his kickoffs in tantalizing spots, where McCluster could field them with a bit of momentum. One return started at the 2-yard line, two more at the goal line, one 1 yard deep and one 4 yards deep.
(Beyond the return game, McCluster had a 25-yard run for the Titans’ lone touchdown, but fumbled twice, losing one.)
Cornerback Cody Sensabaugh is not as much a part of special teams when he’s starting rather than playing nickel back, but he’s still part of the kickoff cover and punt return units.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily special teams, I think it’s all three phases," Sensabaugh said of the poor field position. “That opportunity to have an interception that I had, I should have made that play. That would have been big for field position.”
Similarly, quarterback Marcus Mariota found fault with the offense’s failure to find a big play that flipped the field.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to chunk the ball downfield a little bit,” he said, referring to chunk plays. “It’s tough when you’re playing behind field position. It puts your defense in bad spots. We have to do a better job with that and find ways to get the ball downfield.”