by Teresa M. Walker
NASHVILLE — Titans coach Mike Vrabel may go with who has the hot-hand when it comes to Tennessee’s offensive line — whoever that might be.
Who plays is not etched in stone.
So even though changes in the offensive line may have jump-started a comeback victory against the New York Jets that kept the Titans’ playoff hopes alive for another week, there may be more tweaks on the horizon.
“Just kind of something that I felt like needed to be done at that time,” Vrabel said Monday. “Again, that may change each week. But, at that point in time, I wanted to try to get Corey (Levin) in there at center and see if Ben (Jones) looked like a left guard.”
Trailing 16-6 at halftime, the Titans benched left guard Quinton Spain, a lineman with 44 career starts as an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia, after a mere 126 yards of total offense against the Jets. They slid Jones from center to left guard and put Levin, a sixth-round draft pick in 2017 out of Chattanooga, at center.
The combination seemed to work.
The Titans (6-6) rallied and beat the Jets 26-22 on Sunday while piling up 277 yards and 20 points in the second half.
Vrabel fielded plenty of questions about the offensive line going into this game. The Titans had allowed the most sacks in the NFL (39) with the offense anemic. Even after a season-high 403 yards total offense against the Jets, the Titans still rank only 28th in the NFL for both total yards and points per game.
Levin started at left guard Oct. 21 in a loss to the Chargers with Spain out with an injury. Jones has started every game at center since signing with the Titans in March 2016, but he started 16 games at left guard for Houston in 2014. Vrabel said both did OK in the new spots.
“Keeping the quarterback clean and giving us a chance to throw certainly was big in being able to come back,” Vrabel said. “So again, we all have to play better and coach better than what we did at times in that game. That’s my challenge.”
After the tweaks to the middle of the line, the Titans turned in their biggest comeback since their playoff victory in Kansas City last January with Mariota posting his third game-winning drive this season.
The Titans have plenty of issues to fix. They failed to convert their first 10 third downs with the lone conversion coming on the game-winning touchdown pass from Mariota to Davis. They also continue to struggle with penalties, racking up eight for 75 yards.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan was so unhappy with referee Jerome Boger’s crew that he yelled at officials after the game . Lewan said in the locker room that the Titans are really good at beating themselves right now and the officials didn’t help with calls the tackle described with an expletive.
“It’s frustrating, man it’s frustrating with some of those calls, like the one with Jack where he’s just finishing on the play and the guy actually hits him,” Lewan said of Conklin being flagged for a late hit. “Calling me for holding after the ball is out, there were just some absolutely ridiculous calls. That being said, we shot ourselves in the foot so many times even without their help.”
The Titans have little time to clean up their mistakes; they host the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) Thursday night.
Now only four teams stand between themselves and the final AFC playoff berth with four games to play. Tennessee loses the head-to-head tiebreaker to Baltimore, Miami and Indianapolis and even the Broncos are ahead of the Titans.
“We play in four days,” Lewan said. “So we’ve got to get going and finish strong.”
Notes: The Titans signed RB Jeremy McNichols off the Denver practice squad and waived RB Dalyn Dawkins. They signed CB Kenneth Durden to the practice squad to replace OL Jordan Morgan.
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