NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the Oakland Raiders won the opening toss and elected to receive in Sunday’s NFL season opener at Nissan Stadium against the Tennessee Titans, one immediately felt that this would be a game permeated with aggression.
That is when coach Mike Mularkey decided to up the ante. On the opening kickoff, Mularkey elected for a surprise onside. The ploy backfired, however, and Oakland made the recovery near midfield. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr capitalized on the Tennessee defense, who already faced poor field position, and marched his offense 50 yards in four plays into the end zone with an eight-yard touchdown pass to receiver Amari Cooper.
The eventual 26-16 loss was a bitter pill to swallow for a Titans team that began the season with considerable expectations.
“I give credit to the Raiders,” Mularkey said post-game. To me it’s two good football teams that played today. I thought it was going to be a close game; it was a close game. We kicked a field goal, we had a chance for an onside, we’ve got to do some things better in some areas, but there were some good things in that game we can build off, and obviously there are some things every week we can clean up.”
Carr had a substantive outing, completing 22-of-32 passes for 262 yards through the air and two touchdowns. Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch did considerable damage as well. In his return to football, the man know as “Beast Mode” bullied the Titans defense on the ground for 76 bruising yards on 18 carries. 10 of those Lynch runs came in the final quarter.
“We’re one for one with that,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of his utilization of Lynch to finish the game. “And that’s the idea to be able to close these things, and we did that very well.”
But, of all the areas that could be criticized by fans and media alike, the most disconcerting was the Titans red zone efficiency. A 15-play, 93-yard drive in the second quarter resulted in only a Ryan Succop field goal to bring the score to 10 apiece. Another nine-play, 67-yard march ended in, you guessed it, another Succop kick for three.
“It’s tough, frustrating,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said when asked about the feeling of walking off the field after the 90+ yard effort. “In this league, it’s hard to score and when you sustain drives as long as we did today, a couple of them, you want to finish with a touchdown and get more points on board. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that. Yeah, it was definitely frustrating.”
Among the frustrations for the Titans was the inability to generate much in the run game. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for only 69 yards on 18 carries. After maintaining the third best rushing attack in the NFL last year, the lack of production on the ground served as the most surprising outcome of the day.
“You only get 16 opportunities in a season,” Tennessee left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Your measuring stick is the preseason. You have got to go out there and play. I think as an offense, we had a good day. We kept drives going and we got chances to score. We got to finish those drives. We’ve got a damn good offense and we showed that today, but we got to finish it up.”
- Aloha, Mariota – It didn’t exactly feel like a great performance, but Mariota performed admirably in the loss. By now, the concern that the third-year signal caller may not be fully healed from a broken leg sustained last Christmas Eve against Jacksonville should be alleviated. Mariota evened the score on the Titans first offensive possession, driving 75 yards in 12 plays and capping it off with a 10-yard touchdown run. He finished the day with three rushes for 26 yards and went 25-of-41 for 256 through the air.
- Rookies Roll – It may fall on deaf ears in a loss but the Titans two first-round picks in this year’s NFL Draft showed plenty of promise. Corner Adoree’ Jackson received the nod in his first game action after starter LeShaun Sims was ruled inactive (groin). Jackson was picked on early and often, particularly in the red zone, but rebounded with a touchdown-saving pass defensed and an exceptional play on a kickoff return in which he hurdled a few Raiders. Wide receiver Corey Davis also flashed greatness despite not starting the game. The fifth-overall pick was targeted 10 times and caught six of them for 69 yards, including a Moss-esque snag on a 23-yard fade (his first NFL catch).
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) September 10, 2017
- Italian Stallion – Giorgio Tavecchio, the Raiders Italian kicker who as of last week was not on a roster, went four-of-four on field goal attempts in his first NFL game. Oakland signed him to the active roster last minute after placing long-time stalwart Sebastian Janikowski on injured reserve with back issues. In return, Tavecchio drilled two of those kicks from 52 yards and a third from 48 out.
- Happy Football Season – With an announced attendance of 69,809, the Game Day atmosphere at Nissan Stadium was, as the kids say, LIT. The Nashville Predators (almost all of them) showed up and showed out as the collective 12th Titan with catfish in hand. Jessie James Decker, wife of Titans receiver Eric Decker, rocked a tremendous rendition of the national anthem. Country star Hunter Hayes pitched in as well, performing pre-game and during halftime festivities.