The Titans wrapped up the regular season at 6-10 with a decisive victory over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. While it may seem insignificant (it actually moved the Titans 1st round pick to 10th instead of 7th) I believe it was important for the team to play this way in order to help sell Mike Munchak’s plan for success next year. Late in the first half with the Titans struggling badly (down 14-7, badly outgained, with several missed opportunities for big plays) I had envisioned the tone of his post game talk. It would not have been pretty, especially on the heels of the embarrassing 55-7 loss at Green Bay the week before.
Instead, the Titans turned the tables. With the Jags driving with just under 4 minutes to go in the first half, Zach Brown’s interception started a miraculous string of 28 unanswered points without running a single offensive play. Brown’s two Pick 6’s, along with Darius Reynaud’s slump busting pair of punt returns, set the following records:
-Franchise record of 2 punt returns for TD’s by D-Ray (Billy “White Shoes” Johnson would be proud)
-First team in NFL History with 2 punt returns for TD’s AND 2 interception returns for TD’s in the same game.
-First team in NFL history to score 4 consecutive TD’s by virtue of returns (only other team to ever score TD’s on 4 returns was the 1984 Seahawks against the Chiefs in the Kingdome- but they were not in succession).
Thus, Munchak was able to confidently answer when asked if he thought he would be back next year “definitely” even though he said that he is not sure when he will meet with owner Bud Adams to review the season. Among his other big themes in his argument that the team is on the right track:
- The Titans have a good nucleus of young players that are going to be here for a long time, including “3 special linebackers” in Colin McCarthy, Brown, and Akeem Ayers.
- There will be some adjustments, some in the coaching area.
- This young team “Flashed”, but needs more consistency. Didn’t always “play smart”, and often failed to “make the big plays when they were there“ (several of these examples could be seen today despite the win).
- The Titans just need a few pieces to be a good team. He feels the last two drafts have been good, and now they need to “sprinkle in a few veterans”.
- Free Agency will be “different” this year than his previous two years. The lockout in his first season was unorthodox, and last year was affected drastically by Bud Adams’ demand that the Titans put all of their eggs into the Peyton Manning basket. The City Paper’s David Boclair has a good take on this here:http://nashvillecitypaper.com/content/sports/boclair-munchak-expects-owner-share-blame-titans-woes
So how much of the Munchak Plan am I buying? Some. As I have said throughout the year going back to the preseason discussion of whether or not to give the starting QB to Locker out of camp- this year’s team was never going to be a contender. They simply did not have enough weapons or experience.
I have been eyeing next year as the season that the Titans can start to win. Jake Locker will have 11 starts under his belt. Kenny Britt (fingers crossed) will be injury free for an offseason. The nucleus in the defensive front 7 (3 LB’s plus Morgan, Martin, Casey, Klug) will be a year older and wiser. The 10th pick in the draft could yield a difference maker for the defense.
There are still many questions. How high is Locker’s ceiling? Will he overcome his shortcomings with hard work? Or will these weaknesses (accuracy, decision making, reading defenses) always be issues? Will Britt ever break through to be the weapon his physical talent suggests he can be? Can Kendall Wright progress enough to be worthy of a 1st round pick? What will become of Jared Cook? What will be done to create an identity on offense? Who will be the offensive coordinator?
I could go on about the questions (there are plenty more). I do believe that Mike Munchak deserves the chance to grow with this team. He is a man of substance and is dedicated to making this franchise a winner. Despite the struggles on defense, I like what Jerry Gray is doing – he just needs a weapon or two.
However, I do think the Titans could use some infusion of new ideas from outside “the family”. Clearly, Munchak will have an opportunity to bring in a new Offensive Coordinator to create better cohesion and development of all these “Flashers”. But is there an ingredient from the outside that could tie things together in roster building, scouting, cap management, identifying top assistant coaches, etc.? I’m not sure, but I do know the fan base could use a little shot of energy from the organization in some form. An experienced winner in some leadership role could help.
Munch’s argument that the Titans have not had a normal offseason since he took over does have merit. The knee jerk move of scrapping everything, while perhaps tempting, isn’t often prudent. There is always hope in the NFL. The system of parity ensures that nobody is that far away from being really good. The Titans are no exception. But building the bridge from mediocrity to contention is the most difficult challenge there is. It’s going to be an interesting offseason.
Photo: Scott Cunningham, bigcatcountry.com