Speaking on his post-game show, UT head coach Lane Kiffin said he was "very disappointed" with the outcome, noting that this was "a game we should've won. We outgained them by about 100 yards."
Although he does not deal in moral victories, the Vol boss said he was "very proud of our effort today. But we have to do better. We miss three field goals, and they win by two points."
Lincoln, who suffered a pulled quadricep muscle earlier this season, also had a 47-yard field goal fall short just before halftime and had a 43-yard field goal blocked early in the fourth quarter.
For a 17-point underdog, Tennessee didn't play like one. The Vols (3-4 overall, 1-3 SEC) outgained the Tide (8-0, 5-0) 341 yards to 256, posted more first downs and kept the ball 32:18 to 27:42. The Big Orange also scored the game's only touchdown, limiting Alabama to Leigh Tiffin field goals of 38, 50, 22 and 49 yards.
Tiffin's final field goal cleared the crossbar with perhaps a foot to spare, giving Bama a seemingly safe 12-3 lead with 6:31 to play. When Tennessee elected to punt on fourth-and-4 at its 39-yard line with 5:30 to go, the Vols' comeback hopes dwindled further.
Tennessee's defense forced a Bama punt with 3:43 left but Chris Donald was flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Tide a first down at its 37-yard line. The Vols appeared doomed at this point but that was not the case as things turned out.
Eric Berry stripped Tide tailback Mark Ingram on the very next play, and Tennessee recovered at Bama's 43-yard line. Eight plays later an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Crompton to Gerald Jones closed the gap to 12-10 with 1:19 left.
Denarius Moore recovered Tennessee's ensuing onsides kickoff, giving the Vols the ball at their 41-yard line with 1:16 to play. Crompton hit Jones for 13 yards and hit tight end Luke Stocker for 24 yards to the Bama 27-yard line. A one-yard run by Montario Hardesty and a spike play set up Lincoln's climactic field-goal attempt.
Asked why he didn't run one more play to try and give Lincoln a little shorter field goal, Kiffin replied: "You always have that thought. But I thought our team had played so hard ... that the last thing you want to do is throw the ball and it's a tipped-pass interception. Or you take a sack. Or you run the ball and there's a holding call on it. All of a sudden, you don't give your team a chance to win the game.
"We've got to block better upfront, make the kick and beat the No. 1 team in the country."
Ultimately, it wasn't a missed kick that doomed Tennessee; it was missed opportunities. Consider:
The Vols drove to a second-and-eight at Bama's 33-yard line on their first possession of the game but Hardesty was dropped for a six-yard loss, pushing the Vols out of field-goal range.
Tennessee advanced to the Tide 42-yard on its second possession but Crompton was intercepted by Mark Barron.
The Vols marched to a first-and-goal at Alabama's 8-yard line on their next possession but had to settle for a 24-yard Lincoln field goal that tied the score 3-3.
Tiffin added two second-quarter field goals to give Bama a 9-3 lead, then Lincoln saw his 47-yard attempt fall two yards short on the half's final play.
Tennessee drove to a first-and-10 at the Alabama 31-yard line on its second possession of the second half only to self-destruct. An 11-yard sack, a five-yard delay penalty and a four-yard loss on a swing pass forced the Vols to punt on fourth-and-30 near midfield.
Still trailing just 9-3, the Vols advanced advanced to the Tide 17-yard line on their next possession. After a holding penalty and two incompletions, however, Lincoln's 43-yard field goal was blocked.
Tiffin booted his 49-yard field goal moments later, bumping the lead to 12-3 and setting up the wild finish.
Crompton finished 21 of 36 for 265 yards. Gerald Jones caught 7 passes for 72 yards and Denarius Moore 4 for 73. Hardesty, averaging 112 yards per game coming in, was limited to 48 yards on 18 carries.
Bama's Greg McElroy completed 18 of 29 passes for a mere 120 yards. Ingram, who came in as the SEC rushing leader at 129 yards per game, had 99 yards on 18 carries. Julio Jones, limited to 13 catches in Bama's first seven games, caught 7 balls vs. Tennessee but gained a mere 54 yards on them.
The Vols, the SEC's least penalized team entering Saturday's play, were flagged eight times for 68 yards. The Tide was flagged just once for 10 yards.
"I'm really upset," Kiffin said. "It would've been a great day - the first time in Tennessee history to go on the road and beat a No. 1 team - but we let it slip away."