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Tennessean writers Joe Rexrode and Jason Wolf break down the Titans 7-3 preseason loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The final score of an NFL preseason game is about as relevant to a team’s fortunes as a fortune cookie message is to a person’s life, but Jets 7, Titans 3 might leave an impression.

Especially since it was also: Jets Starters 7, Titans Starters 0.

All August caveats aside, this Jets team is expected to be the worst team in the NFL. Maybe a historically bad team. Maybe a winless team. So while the sample size of mainstays versus mainstays was tiny enough to brush aside as a slow start to a game – a 2016 Titans trademark –the result is still worthy of a pained grimace.

The Titans should embrace that because until Saturday their preseason camp was like life on Facebook. Nothing but the good stuff. Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s having the greatest time ever, and there’s no record of Dad screaming at the kids for letting chocolate bars melt into the car seat.

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Well, the Jets brought out the disappointed Dad in Mike Mularkey, who twice used the term “wake-up call” in his postgame comments at Metlife Stadium.

“Teams are not going to be caught off-guard by us,” he said. “They’re going to come prepared to play, regardless of what the situation is. Scrimmage. Practice. Preseason game. We’ve got to be prepared. I’m just disappointed. I had a bad feeling, to be honest with you, going in. My message was I just wanted a really clean, no mistakes, not a lot of self-inflicted wounds. And I harped on that and we couldn’t do it. I don’t know why.”

It’s way too early, and that’s way too little football with the regulars, to be concerned. This is still my AFC South favorite, Marcus Mariota’s return to football a positive that outweighs everything else. But everything else was rough enough to inspire some real talk afterward.

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“When you get hit in the mouth like that, it will wake some guys up,” said Mariota, who was his fast, pocket-escaping self in two series, nearly nine months after breaking his right fibula.

“Any time you give up a touchdown on the first drive in the preseason, it’s not good,” Titans second-year safety Kevin Byard said.

“There’s a lot of hype around our team, and I think we didn’t come out like the team we finished last year,” second-year offensive tackle Jack Conklin said. “We didn’t come out and pound it like we should have. As an offense, we want to go right down the field and score. That’s what we’re expected to do. No matter what, it’s a preseason game, but we want to win. That’s what our team is built on.”

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The Titans cornerback, who signed with the team this offseason, allowed a long completion in a preseason loss to the Jets.
Jason Wolf / The Tennessean

Pass protection and pass defense were the two problem areas. The first was outstanding last season, the second poor enough that general manager Jon Robinson remade the secondary around rising standout Byard. It was a bad, sloppy night up front, but the Titans will clean that up – and the Jets actually have a star in Leonard Williams and other legitimate NFL players in their front seven.

The pass defense is the thing to watch, and Kelvin Benjamin and the Carolina Panthers will come to town this week – for practices on Wednesday and Thursday, then a game Saturday at Nissan Stadium – to help shine a spotlight on it. Offseason free-agent signee Logan Ryan had a nightmare Titans debut, giving up three receptions for 77 yards on the three passes thrown his way.

That included Robby Anderson blowing past Ryan and hauling in a 53-yard Josh McCown pass to set up the game’s only touchdown. I know what you were thinking: If McCown and a guy named Robby Anderson can do that to him, what will Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton do? Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins? Is Ryan going to single-handedly turn Blake Bortles into a star?!

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Titans head coach Mike Mularkey and quarterback Marcus Mariota reflect on 7 to 3 preseason loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
George Walker IV/ USA Today Network – Tennessee

See, it’s easy to get carried away on these preseason glimpses. Ryan has looked like an upgrade on a daily basis in practice, and he responded appropriately Saturday night, putting the blame and an “F” grade on himself.

“Fortunately Carolina is coming, whether we’re ready or not, and we’ve got to get ready to go,” Ryan said. “And I know I will be.”

The Titans had bright spots other than Mariota, including hints at quality defensive depth from rookie linebacker Jayon Brown, second-year backer Aaron Wallace and second-year corner Kalan Reed. Rookie wideout Taywan Taylor showed his speed; fast riser Antwaun Woods started at nose tackle; and linebacker Kevin Dodd got a ton of needed work.

That’s what these games are for, but sometimes a result can mean something and spark something. Sometimes that little strip of paper in a fortune cookie is dead on. The Titans’ reads: “You face a rigorous and important week of work.”

Reach Joe Rexrode at jrexrode@tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.