The NFL has been pushing a program for kids called Play 60, encouraging youngsters to get in 60 minutes of play time each day.
The Tennessee Titans would do well to heed that advice themselves, as they squandered a 10-point halftime lead in falling to the Cincinnati Bengals 24-17 Sunday at LP Field, thanks to a second-half shutdown.
The loss drops the Titans to 4-4 on the season and further behind in the AFC South race, as the Bengals held the Titans offense in check for the entire second half, only to allow Cincinnati to score 17 unanswered points to win the game.
“They came out with energy in the second half and we didn't, and that was the story of the game,” fullback Ahmard Hall said. “We started off fast and we came out in the second half and go three and out, and they started imposing their will on us and that was the game.”
Added tight end Jared Cook, whose costly fumble in the fourth quarter led to an insurance field goal for the Bengals, “We just didn't have anything going. We didn't capitalize on any opportunities and couldn't make anything open up for us. There's really no answer for that.”
After bullying the Bengals in the first half and building a 17-7 lead, the Titans simply stopped on both sides of the football in the second half, as Cincinnati came roaring back to take control of the game. Tennessee, after 13 first downs and 233 yards of total offense in the first half, managed only six first downs and 95 yards of offense in after halftime.
“I am very disappointed,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “You know, I thought the first half, we played really well in a lot of areas. … It looked like we as a team were playing very well in at the half. ...They made plays obviously and we could not. It is disappointing because we were in positon to win this game and we didn't play well in the second half.”
Indeed, the collapse may have started in the third quarter when the Titans had the ball on their second possession at the Cincinnati 49, but a three-and-out, handed the ball right back to the Bengals.
After that, it was all Bengals as rookie Andy Dalton hit Jerome Simpson with a 15-yard touchdown to cap a Bengals scoring drive midway through the third quarter and pull Cincinnati within 17-14.
Cincinnati then took the lead in the fourth quarter as Dalton hit Andre Caldwell for a 5-yard touchdown pass with10:52 to play in the game.
That score was set up by the rookie tandem of Dalton and A.J. Green, who on a third-and-18 play, went up between Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin for a 20-yard gain, and first-and-goal at the Tennessee 7. To make matters worse, both Titans players were shaken up on the play.
“I was going up to try to break it up, and I don't know what happened. I ran into somebody. I was going for the hit to knock the ball loose,” Griffin said.
Tennessee still had opportunities to bounce back, but instead the ball bounced away as Cook's fumble was turned into Mike Nugent's 36-yard field goal with 1:54 to play, giving the Bengals a 24-17 lead.
There was a last-ditch Titans drive, but it ended with Lavelle Hawkins being tackled on a desperation play at the Cincinnati 32 yard line as time expired.
Early on, Chris Johnson was effective with 55 yards on nine carries in the first half, but he faded in the second half and finished with 64 yards on 14 carries for the game.
In the first half, the Titans got a pair of touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck, an 8-yarder to Damian Williams and a 16-yarder to Lavelle Hawkins with eight seconds left to take the 17-7 lead.
But like the running game that vanished, Hasselbeck's timing with the receivers disappeared in the second half as well.
“Offensively, we had a pretty good first half. I wish we would have kept it going. I wish we would have come out in the third quarter and just pickd up where we left off. We didn't do that,” said Hasselbeck, who finished 24 of 41 for 272 yards, but was only 10 of 20 for 106 yards after the half.
It came down to a Titans team that simply could not handle its first-half prosperity well enough for it to carry over to the second half.
“You have to play a complete game for 60 minutes,” defensive tackle Shaun Smith said. “This is a tough one to swallow right now.”