The Titans' 2013 season featured a few surprise bright spots and major disappointments. Greg Pogue reviews the team's 7-9 campaign and what is on the horizon in Nashville.
Titans second-year wide receiver Kendall Wright finished the season with a team-high 94 receptions, the seventh-best mark in the NFL.
Jim Brown / USA TODAY Sports
By Greg Pogue
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just who will coach the Titans next season has yet to be announced, although Mike Munchak has another year remaining on his contract.
Munchak arrived in Houston Friday to meet with new Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, who is in the process of deciding whether to fire Munchak or retain him for a fourth season. It comes on the heels of a 7-9 record that kept the Titans out of the playoffs for a fifth-straight year.
Contrary to various reports, Smith said no decision had been made today.
"I said all along that we would review every aspect of the football operations at the conclusion of the season -- in early January," Smith said in a team release. "Today I sat down with Ruston and Mike and we discussed every coach and player on the roster. We had good discussions, but no final decisions were made."
Also part of the decision will be Titans general manager Ruston Webster.
"The three of us met all day today in Houston," Webster said in the same release. "We had a good conversation in regards to the team and moving forward. Nothing final has been decided at this point, but we hope to have a decision soon."
Helping Munchak's case is that he has been with the franchise since 1982. He went from being the Houston Oilers' first-round draft pick and eventual Hall of Fame offensive lineman to offensive line coach to head coach the past three seasons.
After starting 3-1, the Titans had visions of the playoffs dancing through their heads. But they lost starting quarterback Jake Locker for nine games, including the last seven, and still played competitively in every game.
Yet, they had to beat lowly Jacksonville and Houston to close the season with seven wins. Some feel that might have been good enough for Munchak to save his job, but time will soon tell.
Kendall Wright had plenty of detractors when the Titans made the former Baylor wide receiver their 2012 first-round and 20th overall draft pick, but he ended up sharing the NFL rookie lead with 64 catches in his debut season.
Even so, there were still those who wondered whether Wright could become more than just a slot receiver, whose perceived lack of speed was a hindrance to becoming a deep threat. Yes, he could catch the short pass and turn and run, but could he stretch the field? The Titans figured that's why they had veteran receivers Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, plus the addition of second-round pick Justin Hunter, a trio compiled to allow Wright to flourish as the team's top possession receiver, which is exactly what happened.
Wright had a team-high 94 receptions -- best among all NFL second-year wide receivers and seventh-best overall -- and 1,079 receiving yards. He either led or tied for the team lead in receptions in 11 games.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Bernard Pollard
Despite the play of defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback Alterraun Verner earning second-team All-Pro honors announced today, plus Verner being the team's only Pro Bowl pick, the attitude and production of veteran Bernard Pollard transformed the defense.
The eighth-year strong safety, who played a key role in helping the Ravens win the Super Bowl last season, immediately seized the leadership of a defense that gave up the most points in franchise history and the most in the NFL last season. Pollard backed up his tough talking with hard hitting, even though penalties and league fines often followed. He was exactly what the defense needed in the form of attitude adjustment.
According to team stats, Pollard led the Titans with 134 tackles and added three interceptions and 11 passes defensed. After signing a one-year contract, it will be interesting to see where Pollard -- who has also played for Kansas City and Houston -- might land next season.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Alterraun Verner
It wasn't decided until the week leading up to the first game of the season that Alterraun Verner had beaten Tommie Campbell for the starting nod at right cornerback. The diminutive Verner (5-foot-10, 186 pounds) had been solid, but only had three interceptions total in his first three years in the league.
Taking advantage of the situation, the 2010 fourth-round draft pick out of UCLA led the team with five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, to finish tied for both the AFC lead and fifth overall in the NFL. He also had team-high 26 passes defensed, nearly equaling the 31 combined entering the season.
Verner also became the Titans' first Pro Bowl selection since 2010 and was named All-Pro second team. At the end of his rookie contract, he has stated he will test the open market.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Jake Locker
It would be easy to go with wide receiver Kenny Britt, but that's too easy. What cost the Titans most was that third-year quarterback Jake Locker missed nine games to injury.
Granted, Locker played well when he played, leading the Titans to a 3-1 start before leaving that fourth game with a shoulder injury. He would miss two starts there and, eventually, the last seven games of the season with a foot injury.
And there's the rub. For a second year in a row as the starter, his injuries led to a backup -- Matt Hasselbeck last year and Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2013 -- to get way too much playing time. Once again, he will enter 2014 having to field questions about his ability to stay healthy.
BEST WIN: Titans 28, Rams 21
The Titans ran into the three straight midseason losses to the playoff-bound Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers. At the time, a 3-4 stance didn't look so bad as the schedule lightened. Then came the road game after a bye week on Nov. 8: at St. Louis. It would be the first meeting between Rams coach Jeff Fisher and the team he coached for 16 seasons.
Lose this game, then the second half of the season would be an uphill battle. Johnson rushed for a season-high 150 yards, and the Titans boosted playoff hopes heading into the last eight games.
WORST LOSS: Jaguars 29, Titans 27
Coming off the win at St. Louis, the Titans had regained their footing. And a week from Thursday following its game against upcoming Jacksonville, the Titans were to host division-leading Indianapolis on a Thursday night.
Thing is, the Jaguars were tired of losing eight straight games to start the season under rookie coach Gus Bradley. And as AFC South opponents, the Titans and Jaguars had split the season series every year dating back to 2007.
Not only was Locker injured again and lost this time for the season, the embarrassing loss had the Titans playing catch-up in the playoff hunt the remainder of the season.
The Titans have settled into mediocrity after not making the playoffs for a fifth straight season and not having won a playoff game in a decade. With a five-game home losing streak being the worst since moving to Nashville in 1997, apathy has emerged among Titans fans, whose declining lack of interest showed with empty seats at LP Field in the last few games.
It's easy to say the Titans were again saddled by not having a starting quarterback able to play a complete season. And the Titans did spend an unprecedented amount in free agency to fill many holes. But it's also fair to wonder if it will get better any time soon, even though the Titans did improve by one win and tangibly across the board in a variety of statistical categories.
Once again, though, the Titans finished with another losing season. For Titans fans, that has become too much of a regular finish to yet another season of disappointment.