NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey walked a fine line Monday when talking about officiating to avoid getting fined by the NFL.
While he took blame for the mistakes his Titans made in an ugly loss, he also made it clear officials should be held accountable for calls that swing games.
“I’ve got to be careful because I’ll get in trouble if I do that. I get in trouble for holding people accountable,” Mularkey said.
“But to me, again you’re talking about two teams that have big factors in the game as well as officials. They’re just as much a factor in the game and when they’re game-changing plays, someone has to be held accountable. But you get in trouble if you go in too much detail about it.”
Officials played a key role in a 14-point swing in the span of three plays in the Titans’ 16-10 loss in Miami.
First, Matt Cassel’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker was wiped out by an offensive pass interference flag on rookie Jonnu Smith. Following an incompletion, Kiko Alonso sacked Cassel as the quarterback tried to throw. Dolphins safety Reshad Jones scooped up the ball at the 38 and ran for a touchdown.
Mularkey had several issues with that play, which was among those the Titans submitted to the NFL for review:
— No bean bag was thrown indicating a turnover.
— The ball not only went past the line of scrimmage, it traveled 13 yards forward. “Pretty tough for me to call that a fumble,” Mularkey said.
— Several Titans said they heard a whistle. Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan said that’s why the offensive linemen stopped. “That ball should have came back regardless,” Lewan said after the game.
— Two extra Miami defenders came onto the field, giving the Dolphins 13 men on the field.
“Their guys thought it was a dead play too,” Mularkey said. “That’s illegal too as well. I’m very shocked they didn’t see that in the review.”
On the offensive pass interference penalty, Mularkey said Smith’s route was something tight ends in the NFL run every Sunday without being flagged. Officials thought there was too much contact.
“You can do that in a lot of games,” said Mularkey, a former NFL tight end himself.
No matter what the NFL responds to Mularkey, the Titans (2-3) find themselves having lost two straight and hoping Marcus Mariota’s left hamstring heals up enough for the quarterback to play Monday night when Tennessee hosts Indianapolis (2-3) in a crucial AFC South game. After hosting the Colts, the Titans visit Cleveland before their bye.
With Cassel replacing Mariota, the Titans gave up six sacks after having allowed only four through the previous four games combined. They also were flagged a season-worst 11 times for 77 yards, though Mularkey noted nine came on offense with five penalties and two turnovers all in the first quarter alone.
“We showed them the penalties this morning from the five games, how much it’s made a difference in the field position game …,” Mularkey said. “That’s us. We got to be better.”
Mularkey also was frustrated by the Titans not blocking better in the run to help out Cassel. Tennessee was held to 69 yards on 20 carries with the Dolphins even after Tennessee had made adjustments to protect against Miami’s run blitzing. And Cassel, who took a beating, could’ve helped himself by throwing the ball away faster.
With the Colts visiting on Monday night, the Titans will get an extra day for Mariota to heal up.
“That helps immensely, no question,” Mularkey said.
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