SAN DIEGO _ Even on Halloween, the Tennessee Titans could not exorcise their demons regarding the San Diego Chargers, falling 33-25 at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Chargers continue to haunt the Titans, rallying from a 12-point deficit in the first half, and pulling out a potential season-saving victory over Tennessee.
Sunday's Charger victory pushes San Diego to 3-5, while the Titans head into their bye week at 5-3 and minus a couple of key ingredients on the offense – with Kenny Britt and Vince Young going down with injuries.
The Chargers continued their mastery and extended the Titans' misery in a series where the Tennessee franchise has not won since 1990 when it was still the Houston Oilers. Jeff Fisher's all-time record against San Diego fell to 0-7, leaving them still the only team the coach has never beaten.
“It was one of those games where we left a lot of plays out on the field. If we would have made a few of those plays we left out there, I think we would have gotten out of here with a win,” receiver Lavelle Hawkins said. “It's tough, because we haven't beaten those guys in a while.”
Even losing Britt to a right hamstring in the first quarter, and having Young re-injure his left ankle in the fourth quarter, the Titans had their chances.
But on Sunday, the bend-but-don't break defense finally snapped – getting just one turnover and one sack, while allowing Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense to put up 456 yards.
On top of that, the Titans defense was again worn down – to the tune of 71 plays and losing time of possession by more than a quarter – 37:47 to 22:13.
“The Chargers did a real nice job of protecting the football and keeping it away from us on third down,” Fisher said. “They converted way too many third downs.”
San Diego converted 12 of 18 to be exact, none bigger than the one that came by penalty with 5:24 to play in the third quarter.
With the Titans nursing a 19-17 lead, Michael Griffin stepped in front of Antonio Gates on a pass over the middle, intercepting the ball and going in 17 yards for a touchdown. However, as Griffin crossed the goal line, a penalty flag came from the back side.
“I don't feel like I grabbed him at all,” Griffin said of the defensive holding call against him. “The way he runs his route, he kind of gets you to over-pursue and then he'll get on you and kind of push you by.”
It not only wiped out the touchdown, and gave San Diego a first down at its own 16. But two plays later, Gates had gotten free on the left sideline and rambled 48-yards into the end zone to give the Chargers the lead for good at 24-19.
“It's hard. It changed the game,” Griffin protested. “It's questionable because after the play was over, then the flag came out. It was so late. I don't know whether or not it was a call based on a well-known person throwing his hands up. I don't know how that works, but that play was over. I'm able to turn around and look, and then the flag comes out.”
Gates, who had to have his foot re-taped at halftime, still tormented the Titans, catching five passes for 123 yards and a score.
Even so, the Titans still had their chances against a Chargers team that has been, pardon the seasonal pun, spooked for much of the season.
The Chargers tacked on a Kris Brown field goal to go up 27-19, but the Titans struck back when Young found Nate Washington on the deep post for a 71-yard touchdown. A two-point pass was no good, leaving the score 27-25 with 11:43 to go.
The touchdown came on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage after Brown's kick.
“We did a good job of controlling the play right there. We had good blocking, and he did a good job of putting the ball where it needed to be,” Washington said.
Even when the Chargers marched back downfield against a beleaguered Tennessee defense with Darren Sproles taking a 13-yard TD pass from Rivers, opportunity still abounded for the Titans, thanks to a bad snap on the extra point that left San Diego only up eight with 6:51 to play.
The Titans lost Young to an ankle injury on a scramble on their second-to-last series, but got the ball back late and drove to the Chargers 15 with Kerry Collins at the controls.
On fourth-and-2, a dump pass to Chris Johnson over the middle went in and out of the running back's hands, leaving the Titans with yet another haunting loss at the hands of the Chargers.
“I just dropped the ball,” said Johnson who had a 29-yard touchdown run but only 59 yards rushing in the game. “[It was] a play I was supposed to make. I make it nine out of 10 times, but it was just a dropped ball.”
Collins said tight end Bo Scaife was the initial read on the play.
“It was just one of those things where we had a timeout. We could still throw the ball over the middle. Obviously, we're in a fourth-and-short situation. We really called it to go to Bo, but they jumped it, and I kind of went to my second read,” Collins said. “CJ was there, but we just couldn't hook up for whatever reason.”
Once again, for the Titans “whatever reason” meant another disappointing loss to the Chargers.