The Tennessee Titans playoff hopes are officially dead.
For a team likely playing for Coach Mike Munchak's job for 2014, Sunday's 37-34 loss to the Arizona Cardinals consisted of a furious comeback that showed plenty of heart - 17 points in the final 3:01 of regulation to force overtime - but it wound up as just another befuddling loss in the end.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's interception in overtime ruined what could have been a miracle comeback against the Cardinals, allowing Arizona's Jay Feely to hit a 41-yard field goal to win it.
The Titans trailed 34-17 with 6:13 to play after Antoine Cason picked off a Fitzpatrick pass in regulation and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
"That's a game we're supposed to win," Fitzpatrick said. "For us to come back 17 points down late like that, to win the toss, get the ball, be at home, all that stuff … but unfortunately, that happened."
To their credit, the Titans did not quit, getting two touchdown receptions from Michael Preston and a field goal from Rob Bironas sandwiched in between to complete a rally with 10 seconds to play.
The Titans won the toss and got the ball first in overtime and moved to the Cardinals' 43 on a 33-yard pass to Nate Washington. However, on the very next play, Cason picked off Fitzpatrick for the second time, and the Cardinals managed to escape with their ninth win of the year.
"We kept fighting, but the disappointing part is that we put ourselves in that situation by dumb mistakes and just not making plays. It's encouraging that we continued to fight, but when you lose you don't' really find moral victories," cornerback Jason McCourty said.
Tennessee falls to 5-9 on the season, and will finish out the season against division also-rans Jacksonville and Houston.
The Titans played the game without receivers Justin Hunter and Damian Williams, both of whom were deactivated due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.
It opened the door for Preston to catch the first two touchdown receptions of his career, that helped to bring Tennessee back for the overtime. Preston scored with 3:01 to play, and then following a stop of the Cardinals, Bironas made a 24-yard field goal with47 seconds to play before the Titans' Daimon Stafford recovered an onside kick at the 46.
Fitzpatrick capitalized, hitting Preston from eight yards out on third-and-goal for the tying touchdown.
"I wasn't expected to play, but I got the nod, so it was important for me to go out there and play," said Preston.
At that point, when Tennessee won the toss, it appeared the game might be the Titans' for the taking. Fitzpatrick completed a 33-yard pass to Nate Washington to the Arizona 46. But on the very next play, Fitzpatrick and Preston miscommunicated and Cason picked it off.
From there, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals calmly marched into range for Feely's game-winning field goal ruining the Titans' comeback and leading to yet another close loss.
"We continue to face that demon that has been haunting us all year long. We didn't win," safety Bernard Pollard said.
It was typical of the way the Titans' season has gone, especially with Fitzpatrick at quarterback, where turnovers at crucial times have been a key ingredient in many of the losses. Fitzpatrick was 36 of 58, throwing for 402 yards on the day with four touchdowns, but his two costly interceptions played a factor in first the Titans being down 17 points and eventually losing in the overtime period.
"It's hard to believe the things that have happened this year. It has been strange the way the ball has bounced against us or in plays or plays made," Munchak said. "It just seems like we've been finding a different way to lose games that we've had a great chance of winning."
With the team potentially playing for Munchak's job, some players said that Sunday's comeback effort is proof that the coach has not lost the team, despite losing 8 of its last 10 games this year.
Tackle Michael Roos said Munchak, whose job status has been called into question in media speculation, says the coach deserves to come back in 2014, citing Sunday's effort as one reason why.
"Nobody in our building has tanked it, and that is a good example that guys are gonna keep fighting," said tackle Michael Roos. "We're gonna keep fighting and working and that is the attitude in the building. We're just gonna keep doing that as much as we have to and find that little bit to get over the hump.
"I think everybody enjoys playing for him and enjoys the way he has changed the culture and the attitude all throughout the entire organization. It would be good to let him finish what he started."