NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey is taking an optimistic view of the Titans' latest loss, a game in which they trailed by 16 points.
Mularkey said Monday he's encouraged by how the Titans fought back to take the lead. The veteran coach and former player said he's been around a lot of teams that didn't fight back, especially after making their would-be comeback tougher with three turnovers — two returned for touchdowns.
"We don't want to be falling behind," Mularkey said. "But we also have the ability to come back, and nobody flinched. Nobody panicked. Nobody quit, and that's the heart of this football team."
Tennessee went to San Diego trying to climb above .500 and move within a half-game of Houston in the AFC South. Instead, the Titans trailed 16-0 less than 16 minutes after kickoff in the 43-35 loss to San Diego. The turnovers came from Marcus Mariota on two interceptions and a fumble, and Mularkey said having turnovers returned for touchdowns can devastate teams but not these Titans.
Mariota threw for 313 yards with three touchdowns and also ran for a fourth. Mularkey said Mariota made some very nice throws, including threading an 8-yard pass to Delanie Walker in the fourth quarter that pulled Tennessee within 33-28. But Mariota now has lost four fumbles this season with eight interceptions.
"I guess we have to take some bad experiences to maybe emphasize it like we've had," Mularkey said. "He knows more than anybody what he's got to do when he turns up, and he's got to do a good job of getting that thing high and tight and put it away."
Tennessee (4-5) has some other issues to fix before hosting the Green Bay Packers (4-4) on Sunday. That's the Titans' lone home game this month before road trips to Indianapolis (4-5) and Chicago (2-6) before their bye.
The defense, which had been ranked sixth allowing only 82.5 yards per game this season, allowed its first 100-yard game by a running back — and then some.
Melvin Gordon had 100 yards by halftime and just missed adding another in the second when he finished with a career-high 196 yards rushing. The Titans held Phillip Rivers to 99 yards in the second half but gave up 176 yards and two TD passes before halftime.
Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said the Chargers were running draws up the middle at him and teammate DaQuan Jones, and the Titans now need to tighten up their run defense quickly.
"We've got to go back ... to try to figure out what we're going to do to make sure we don't let this happen to us again," Casey said.
Mularkey wasn't happy with the officiating of referee Brad Allen's crew either. He cited three penalty calls immediately after the game, and Mularkey said Monday that he sent 11 of 15 plays to the league office he thought could've been officiated better, including a defensive holding penalty on safety Da'Norris Searcy when the receiver fell wiping out a sack by Casey on third-and-1. San Diego scored the go-ahead TD a play later.
"I'm not using that as an excuse for the loss ... by any means," Mularkey said.
Notes: The Titans played without Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who strained a calf muscle in pregame warmups. Mularkey said an MRI confirmed a strained calf and that Henry's pain tolerance will determine when the running back returns. But the Titans promoted RB David Fluellen from the practice squad and waived CB Cody Riggs a couple hours after the coach spoke to reporters. ... Mularkey said they will try to ease LG Quinton Spain (right knee) back into practice Wednesday and S Rashad Johnson (neck) should practice this week after missing two games.