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VOL. 39 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 20, 2015

Painful thought: Will the Titans ever be good again?

Almost 12 years since last playoff win

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Titans field goal kicker Gary Anderson is congratulated by Derrick Mason, center, and Drew Bennett after scoring the winning field goal in the Titans last playoff win, Jan. 3, 2004 against Baltimore.

-- Ap Photo/Gail Burton

As the Tennessee Titans head down the backstretch of another unproductive season, it might be time to ponder a scary question: Will the Titans ever be good again?

How much longer will they be an NFL’s bottom feeder, swimming the same muddy waters as the Raiders, Browns, Lions and Jaguars?

Sunday’s 27-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers certainly showed the Titans have a ways to go before they can go toe-to-toe with top teams for four quarters.

Tennessee hung in for about two-and-a-half quarters, but then quietly folded its tent as the Panthers pulled away.

And if you think that game was a measuring stick to see how the Titans stack up against the league’s elite, just wait until Dec. 20 when they visit Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots.

Before that, there is a stretch, beginning Thursday night in Jacksonville, in which the Titans see how they match up against their own kind. They get Oakland (4-5) and Jacksonville (3-6) at home on Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, then travel to New York to play the Jets (5-4) before New England.

They then close the season at home against the Texans (4-5) and at Indianapolis (4-5).

But back to the topic at hand regarding the Titans and their current run of failure.

It occurred to me the other day that my son, who turns 12 in February, has never seen a Titans postseason win in his life. The Titans last won a playoff game after the 2003 season. He was born in February 2004 and doesn’t remember their last postseason game, which came at the end of the 2008 season.

Or, to put it in better perspective, it came during the final days of George W. Bush’s presidential administration.

Here’s the point: There is now a whole generation of young fans who have grown up expecting the Titans to lose.

Ten games in a row lost at Nissan Stadium? They’re used to it.

Four wins in the past season and a-half? They’re used to it.

When the Titans – and the Predators, too, for that matter – came here back in the late ’90s, they had different but somewhat similar missions to appeal to their brand new fan bases.

The Titans had the brand name of the NFL, which people in Tennessee were familiar with, but had to overcome local fans’ long-time allegiances to the Cowboys, Steelers or whoever they had picked out as their childhood favorite.

Winning during the early years helped them clear that obstacle.

The Predators, on the other hand, had to educate people about hockey. Fans knew there would be growing pains, and the expansion team lost games for several years.

Now, years later, the roles have reversed in Nashville. The Preds’ bandwagon is full and the team is a bona fide contender, having built a fan base from scratch.

The Titans, now years removed from contention, are still wondering how things went so wrong.

There are any number of reasons for the Titans’ failures. Some blame coaching, some blame the front office, the players or ownership. In truth, they all have certain levels of culpability.

But in looking at where the Titans are and have been in recent years, a big part seems to be the lack of stability.

Barring a late run of success by Mike Mularkey, the Titans will likely be looking for their fifth head coach in the last eight years. That’s a number equaled by the Browns and topped only by the Raiders over that period.

Something that was once taken for granted during Jeff Fisher’s 17-year run that was allowed to continue through good, bad and many 8-8s has become a revolving door.

Mularkey or whoever the coach is in 2016 will be given the opportunity to finally build something that can last.

Maybe those young fans like my son will be able to see a Titans playoff game before earning their college diplomas.

Four things to watch

1. Bring your shades: With apologies to Corey Hart, you may need you sunglasses at night to watch this one. The NFL is doing a color rush uniform promotion that has the Titans in a neon glowing powder blue. The Jaguars will be in what could probably be best described as fool’s gold-colored uniforms.

2. The AFC South race: Even at 2-7, the Titans are technically still alive in the AFC South, just two games out with seven to play. But the Jaguars at 3-6 are just one game out. If you’re looking at a must-win game for the Titans to keep their feeble playoff hopes alive, then this is it. A loss here and the line of thinking switches back to how high a draft pick the team will have in 2016.

3. Win it for Mularkey: Mike Mularkey tried to downplay it, but he was the head coach of the Jaguars in 2012 and was fired after just one season on the job. Mularkey was basically swept aside when new owner Shad Khan came in and hired David Caldwell as general manager. Caldwell then fired Mularkey and brought in Gus Bradley to run the game. Mularkey won’t say it, but he would love to win against the Jags, who appear on the schedule twice in the next three weeks.

4. Pick up the pieces: The Titans lost receiver Justin Hunter and cornerback Jason McCourty to season-ending surgeries. Hunter broke his ankle in the loss to the Panthers, and McCourty, who has been plagued by a groin injury, decided to have a second surgery, which will end his season as well. The Titans were already short at both receiver and cornerback due to other injuries.

Three matchups to watch

Marcus Mariota vs. Jaguars secondary: The Titans need to get Mariota in a rhythm, something they could not do against the Panthers last Sunday. Mariota threw for just 185 yards, but should have an easier time of it against the Jaguars not-so-stout defense on Thursday night.

Brian Orakpo vs. Luke Joeckel: Joeckel has been a bit of a disappointment since being the No. 2 overall pick by the Jaguars a few years ago. He will have a challenge on his hands Thursday night as Orakpo has found a groove with sacks now in three straight games for the Titans.

Blake Bortles vs. Titans secondary: Bortles has slowly but surely improved in his second year as the Jaguars quarterback. The Titans secondary is a patchwork group right now, thanks to injuries that have sidelined Jason McCourty, Perrish Cox and Blidi Wreh-Wilson all at various times.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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