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Tennessee Titans' struggles on third down costly against New York Jets

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Here's the "Nifty 50s" wrap up from MetLife Stadium after the Titans (0:53)

Here's the "Nifty 50s" wrap up from MetLife Stadium after the Titans 27-24 loss to the Jets. Video by Turron Davenport (0:53)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill lined up in shotgun facing a third-and-1 from the New York Jets' 11-yard line on the second drive of the game. It was their second consecutive visit into the red zone.

A measly one yard would have given the Titans a new set of downs at the Jets' 10-yard line and a chance to score an early touchdown. Instead, reserve center Aaron Brewer's snap went over Tannehill's head and killed the drive.

Tennessee (2-2) had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by kicker Randy Bullock. That series was a microcosm of the Titans' struggles against the Jets (1-3) in their 27-24 loss.

Tennessee drove into the red zone on its first three drives and came away with only nine points. The botched snap was sandwiched between two sacks on third down to end drives. What could have been a 21-0 lead ended up being only 9-0 against a Jets team that entered Week 4 having been outscored 46-3 in the first halves of their first three games.

"A lot of three points when we needed six," wide receiver Josh Reynolds said. "That's what it came down to."

"We've gotta be able to score when we get down there," Added Tannehill.

The Jets moved the ball down the field, thanks to back-to-back completions from quarterback Zach Wilson to former Titans wide receiver Corey Davis. New York's initial visit ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Michael Carter.

It was New York's first score on the ground all season. The winless Jets were a defensive stop and a field goal away from taking their first lead of the season.

Suddenly, they had life.

"You can flip it on them if you're able to score," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. "We weren't able to finish drives early in the game and kept them in it. You kick three field goals and give up big plays on defense to a young football team and give them a reason to go out there and play."

The red zone struggles would be more understandable if they were limited to the Week 4 loss, because the Jets' red zone defense had limited opponents to touchdowns on 33% (tied with the Denver Broncos and the New Orleans Saints for tops in the NFL) of their visits inside the 20, but they aren't.

The issues have been prevalent in all four games for the Titans. Through four games, Tennessee has scored touchdowns on 50% of its visits inside the red zone. That ranks 25th in the NFL. Not having A.J. Brown and Julio Jones because of hamstring injuries didn't make things any easier.

Over the past two seasons, the Titans were among the best red zone scoring offenses in the NFL. They scored touchdowns inside the 20 at a 75.5% clip in 2019 (tops in the NFL) and 75% in 2020, when they finished second only to the Green Bay Packers (80%).

Too many drives this season have stalled out when the Titans are in scoring position. What has gone wrong?

Tannehill's efficiency in the red zone was a big reason why the Titans had so much success over the past two seasons. Former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith caught eight touchdown passes from Tannehill in the red zone last season.

Smith moved on to the New England Patriots via free agency, leaving a void at tight end. Before the season started, Vrabel said the Titans planned to feature Anthony Firkser in the red zone, but he has been in and out of the lineup because of a knee injury.

Tannehill's completion percentage in the red zone has dropped from 70.3% in 2019 to 63.2% last season to 56.5% this season. The lower completion percentage certainly doesn't help, but Tannehill can't put a finger on one exact thing that has caused them to stumble so much in the red zone.

"It's been one thing here, one thing there," Tannehill said. "Bad snap, missed opportunities, bad throw, a drop. It's been everything. We have to as a group come together, clean things up, come together and execute to make some plays."

The Titans will get a chance to turn things around next week in Jacksonville against the Jaguars (0-4), who's opponent red zone scoring percentage is 62.5%.