FOXBOROUGH — Back-to-back conference losses might well have nuked the Tennessee Titans (8-4) chances at obtaining a first-round bye in the 2021 postseason. Tennessee squandered a massive opportunity in a 36-13 road loss to the New England Patriots (8-4).

The “next man up” mentality can only carry a team so far.

Losing at New England would likely feel better if there had not been ample opportunity to defeat the Patriots in their own place. Instead the Titans buried themselves for the second consecutive game. Tennessee’s roster is ravaged, of course, and the attrition may be too much to overcome.

Three themes have emerged heading into the team’s Week 13 bye that can elucidate just exactly what we’ve been watching from the Titans in the last month.

Titans cannot sustain at this pace

Hello, Captain Obvious.

Nov 28, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Dontrell Hilliard (40) fumbles the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports.

Tennssee’s biggest issue stems from how deeply injured this 2021 team has been. The Titans have now used 86 total players this NFL season after Sunday’s loss. That total is the most of any team in the league in any season since at least 1993, per Jim Wyatt of The 2019 Miami Dolphins (5-11) and the 2020 San Francisco 49ers (6-10) previously held the record for number of participants in a single season.

Tennessee has run out of any kind of sustainable depth, and it showed again on Sunday.

“I guess that’s where we’re at,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “We’ve got a bye. We’ve got to get healthy mentally and physically. And get back to playing football how we know how to play it, taking care of the football, playing complementary, knowing the details. A lot of things to improve.”

The MASH unit mentality is a lot to overcome.

It also means that any Titans player that has been with the team down the stretch simply has no margin for error. Kicker Randy Bullock, for example, has been nearly perfect for this team since securing his spot full-time in Week 2 at Seattle. Bullock, who had made 28 of 30 extra point attempts and connected on 18 of 20 field goal tries, missed one of his point-afters and doinked his only try for three points at New England.

Bullock has been near perfect since arriving in Tennessee. His teammates were not nearly good enough to help support him on his first bad day as a Titan.

Nov 28, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Tennessee Titans kicker Randy Bullock (14) misses the extra point against the New England Patriots in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Titans offense showed life, but not enough

Were it not for the turnovers, Vrabel and the Titans coaching staff clearly had a plan that was working against the Patriots.

A team that had so desperately lacked in explosive plays finally found them. Tennessee’s combination of Dontrell Hilliard (12/131), D’Onta Foreman (19/109), Ryan Tannehill (5/24) and Khari Blasingame (3/6) accumulated 270 yards rushing. The problem, of course, is that all three of the backs fumbled and Tannehill tossed his 13th interception of the season.

Unfortunate for Vrabel and company, given that there were clearly signs of progress and life.

“We knew what we had to do,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan. “Anytime you go on an away game, you’ve got to have a strong chin and a big heart and pack a run game. I think we did those things. I think the effort was outstanding from everybody on the offense and we just got to keep those guys going. We are crushing it from the 20 to the 20. We’ve got to finish those drives.”

All that fuss and only 13 points to show for it.

There has not been an NFL team in nearly three decades that has needed its bye week the way these Titans do. For the players and coaches, there will be almost a full week to get right physically and mentally. Fans seem nearly as exhausted, having to learn new parts on about a quarter of the roster each week. When Tennessee returns to action, they might at least see signs of life from someone like Julio Jones; players with high expectations and lower-than-expected output can be found up and down the roster.

Back-to-back losses this late in the season are costly. Until the roster gets right, it will be nearly impossible for these Titans to legitimately compete.

Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.