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VOL. 37 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 20, 2013

Hard to convince Titans fans the team is in ‘winning business’

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Tennessee Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith has some big decisions to make at season’s end, the biggest being whether to retain franchise icon Mike Munchak as head coach.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Zaleski

At long last, Tommy Smith made himself available to the media.

Smith was peppered before Sunday’s overtime loss to Arizona with the usual questions about Mike Munchak’s job security, which he mostly dodged, saying it would be handled in the first week following conclusion of the Titans’ season.

That season will conclude in two more weeks after games against fellow AFC South also-rans Jacksonville and Houston. There will be little on the line, as the Titans’ playoff hopes were officially extinguished on Sunday.

Among the more interesting things the low-key Smith had to say on Sunday was that the Titans are “not in the losing business. We’re in the winning business.”

As I sat in the press conference, I knew that would end up being the money quote because it sheds some light what Smith expects from this franchise.

It also gives critics plenty of fodder because it’s pretty easy to point out that a team that hasn’t won a postseason game in a decade and will now miss the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year is indeed in the losing business and, from the looks of things, is getting better at it every year.

The Titans have become the type of team that makes fans want to kick their dog or hurl the remote at the TV set. They always seem to do just enough to keep you interested and make you believe they are going to win, only to find a way not to win.

It’s too easy and not fully accurate to pin this on Munchak, who might ultimately pay the price at the end of the season. (The fact that Smith did not endorse Munchak, but said he would be evaluated at season’s end, could be telling).

But the ugly truth is, this team’s issues began long before Munchak ever became head coach.

For years, the Titans have frustrated their fans. In 2009, after winning 13 games the year before, the team started 0-6. They stood 5-3 in 2010 before winning just one of its final eight games.

Even when the Titans have been good, they’ve still managed to disappoint. They had the best record in the NFL in 2000 and again in 2008, only to stumble both times in the playoffs against the Baltimore Ravens.

They had arguably the best team in the NFL over a five-year stretch from 1999-2003 with just one Super Bowl to show for it. Now, as evidenced by empty seats at LP Field, frustration is being replaced by apathy.

Smith says he sees a good nucleus, and that the Titans could win by just adding a few more pieces. That might be true, but there are a couple of big holes in that argument.

First, if the Smith wants the Titans to win, then they have to get the quarterback position squared away. Jake Locker might still be the guy to take the Titans back to contender status – they were 4-3 in his starts this year – but he is months away from even beginning his rehab from foot surgery.

Smith and GM Ruston Webster had better have the right plan in place there – with or without counting on Locker as the starter. No matter who the coach might be, it won’t matter much without steadiness at the most vital position on the field.

People can blame Munchak and his staff for some of the problems, but there is this: The Titans are 1-6 in games started by Ryan Fitzpatrick this year, and at times the offense seems to have more glitches than the Obamacare website.

It’s not just that turnovers and mistakes are happening, it’s that they’re happening at critical times.

On the other side of the ball, the Titans are still missing the one ingredient that has always been a part of their success – an edge pass rusher.

On Sunday, they got to see what they could have had when John Abraham showed up as an Arizona Cardinal and recorded a sack on Fitzpatrick. Tennessee has flirted with Abraham in each of the past two years and has not signed a player who almost always delivers double-digit sacks.

When the Titans have been at their best defensively, it has been with ends like Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Jurrell Casey has been a major find on the interior with 10.5 sacks, but an outside presence is still needed.

Smith vowed Sunday to fix the Titans and says he knows the fans’ pain.

Judging from Sunday’s lack of attendance and apathy, Smith could be feeling that pain in his wallet.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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