Despite ending the season on a high note, the Titans have plenty of work to do this offseason.
By GREG POGUEFS Tennessee
NASHVILLE — A home win in the season finale for the
Tennessee Titans did little to take some chill off the cold of the day.
The Titans beat the lowly
Jacksonville Jaguars, 38-20, Sunday at LP Field but the disappointing season has long been placed on ice.
Titans fans in general and team owner Bud Adams in particular will carry very few warm and fuzzy feelings for a lost season that produced a 6-10 record, including going only 1-5 within the AFC South.
But it just wasn't the losses that came on the heels of last season's encouraging 9-7 record and near miss of the playoffs in head coach Mike Munchak's debut season. Rather, it was how non-competitive and even lost at times the Titans seemed to be in six of the defeats. And of the six victories, none came against a team that finished the season with a winning record.
Against Jacksonville (2-14), the Titans did make enough big plays defensively and on special teams to overcome an offense that sputtered at times once again. Rookie linebacker Zach Brown returned two interceptions off Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne for touchdowns, and punt returner Darius Reynaud returned two punts for scores. It marked the first time in franchise history that two interceptions and two punts had been returned for touchdowns in the same game.
"We have a nice, young group here," Munchak said after the game. "Hopefully, when you see things like you saw today, you should be excited that you have some good young players that can make some plays and are going to be here a long time."
Following two embarrassing defeats this season — an uninspiring 55-7 loss a week ago Sunday at Green Bay and a comical 51-20 home loss to Chicago on Nov. 4 — Adams not only publicly voiced his displeasure about the team's performance on the field, but questioned all aspects of the franchise's football operations, including the performance of Munchak.
Adams said he will meet soon after the season with Munchak and others in various roles — presumably Titans president Mike Reinfeldt and general manager Ruston Webster, among others — to learn what is wrong and figure how it can be fixed.
"When you talk to the owner, from the top to the bottom, you are going to talk about your roster, what we think we are doing, and why we are headed in the right direction with the players that we have, where we may need to add (players), and any adjustments that will make a difference for next year," said Munchak, who noted a meeting with Adams has not yet been scheduled.
"It's the same thing with coaching and what we are doing there," he added. "We want to deal with it from top to bottom."
In late November, Munchak fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and replaced him on an interim basis with quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. The future of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is in question, too, after the Titans set a franchise record for the most points allowed in a season.
Personnel-wise, there appears to be as many questions as answers. Second-year quarterback Jake Locker missed five games with a shoulder injury after winning the starting job during training camp over incumbent Matt Hasselbeck. In the previous five games, he had thrown nine interceptions to only five touchdowns. But against the Jaguars, he played solidly, completing 9-of-15 passes for 152 yards and a 94.3 passer rating.
"It's not record-wise ideally where you want to be," Locker said of the season. "But I thought there were a lot of positives to take away from it, a lot of learning experiences and things that make me better going forward."
Running back Chris Johnson gained only 56 yards on 21 carries Sunday to finish with 1,243 yards for the season. Then again, he ran behind an injury-plagued offensive line that had four starters on injured reserve by season's end.
"It's going to take a lot of leadership," Johnson said of what it will take to get the Titans playoff worthy. "The leaders on this team need to step up and just work hard during the off-season, and then bring the younger guys along with us."
Even Sunday's win, as lopsided as the final score might indicate, wasn't a work of art for the Titans, that is until the four non-offensive touchdowns blew the game open. The Titans' offense only had one sustained drive for a touchdown, and that came on the opening series.
After being outplayed and looking out of sorts for most of the first half, the Titans took a 21-14 halftime lead when they scored two touchdowns within 1:15 of each other in the final two minutes. Trailing 14-7, Brown jumped a pass route from Henne intended for tight end Marcedes Lewis and returned the interception 79 yards for a touchdown. After the Jaguars were held on downs on the following possession, Reynaud returned a punt 69 yards to give the Titans a 21-14 halftime edge.
Reynaud blew the game open with his second punt return for a score, this coming from 81 yards after the Jaguars were held on downs on their first possession of the second half. Less than a minute later, Brown returned a Henne pass 30 yards for yet another score to give the Titans a 35-14 lead.
"I am not sure how that one got out of control like it did, but it did," Jaguars first-year head coach Mike Mularkey said. " … Statistically, you have no way of winning those games, especially when you do it more than once."
Each team scored on their opening possession. The Titans drove 79 yards on seven plays on the game's first possession, getting the final two yards on a scoring run by Johnson. The big plays in the drive were Locker connecting with receivers Nate Washington and Lavelle Hawkins on passes of 21 and 42 yards, respectively.
The Jaguars countered with a 76-yard, 10-play drive that was capped by Henne hooking up with receiver Jordan Shipley on a 5-yard scoring pass. During the drive, backup running back Keith Toston, who was called into duty when Maurice Jones-Drew was placed on injured reserve, gained 29 yards on four carries. He finished with 74 yards on 17 carries.
Jacksonville took a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 61-yard, seven-play drive that culminated with Henne hooking up with receiver Justin Blackman on a 30-yard scoring pass.
"You know, 6-10, that's the best we could do (with a win Sunday), we're not happy about that," Munchak said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us. But it's nice to end up with a win like today."