Titans’ 2014 outlook may not include Munchak, Johnson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After getting off to a promising 3-1 start, the Titans have proceeded to lose seven of their next nine games to sit at 5-8 heading into Sunday’s game against visiting Arizona (8-5).
As such, there is speculation that Mike Munchak might be coaching the final three games of a three-year tenure, and Chris Johnson’s six-year run with Tennessee may be coming to an end.
This season, the Titans picked up a $10 million guarantee on Johnson’s salary. He’s also due to make $8 million each of the next two years and $6 million in 2016. But Johnson has gained only 820 yards in 13 games, putting him on pace for a career-low 1,009 rushing yards.
His current average of 3.8 yards per carry would also be a career worst.
“I’m in my sixth year and I still feel great,” said Johnson, the three-time Pro Bowler who rushed for a career-high 2,006 yards in 2009. At the time, it made him just the sixth back in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a campaign.
This season, he has rushed for more than 100 yards only once, gaining 150 in a win Nov. 3 at St. Louis. And he has rushed for less than 50 yards in six games, including gaining only 46 on 12 carries in last Sunday’s loss at Denver.
“I haven’t missed a game or anything like that happened,” said Johnson, who has missed only one came in his career. “I haven’t lost anything, so I still say I’ll be great.”
But his production hasn’t matched the salary ever since Johnson held out of training camp in 2011 before signing a four-year contract extension worth $53.5 million.
“I’m just worried about the next game, really, and not get into all the other speculation and all that,” Johnson said about the talk of whether he will return to the Titans next season. “If that happens, it happens, and I’m not going to worry about it right now.”
Johnson wants to finish his career with the Titans. In nearly six seasons, he has rushed for 7,708 yards, ranking third in franchise history behind Eddie George (10,009) and Earl Campbell (8,574). He has also scored 49 touchdowns, but no more than six in any one season since scoring 11 in 2010.
“I want to be here,” said the team’s 2008 first-round draft pick out of East Carolina. “I signed a contract to be here. I want to finish my career as a Titan.
“But at the end of the day, what a lot of people don’t understand, it’s a business. And you have to deal with the business side of things.”
The Titans have been competitive in just about every game they have lost, including leading the Broncos 21-10 in the first half. But Johnson said the team, which hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008, can’t say it’s close to turning the corner because of all the losses.
“I don’t think we’re close because it’s a situation where we play good for a couple quarters and then we fall short at the end,” Johnson said. “We win the game, and then we come back and lose the next game. We have got to be more consistent.
“We haven’t won back-to-back games in a long time, so for me to sit here and say we’re close, I won’t be able to say that. But I know we’ve got a good team, and guys in here are working extremely hard.”
Is Pollard being targeted?
Before his first season with the Titans got under way, safety Bernard Pollard had a reputation as a big-time hitter. While helping the Ravens eventually win the Super Bowl last season, his helmet-to-helmet shot to Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, who fumbled on the play in the AFC championship game, has become legendary.
This season, the NFL has fined Pollard $67,750 for three separate hits, including a $42,000 fine for his hit Sept. 15 on Houston receiver Andre Johnson. On Sunday, he was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for a hit on Broncos receiver Eric Decker where Pollard turned his body and led with his shoulder to Decker’s shoulder.
It was judged to be a hit on a defenseless player by the officiating crew, and the 15-yard penalty in the second quarter sustained a drive that eventually led to a touchdown to give the Broncos the lead for good.
“I don’t think anyone deliberately is looking for him to do something,” Munchak said concerning game officials paying overt attention to Pollard, “but I think there’s no doubt they’re aware of him. They’reaware of guys when they go into games just like when we tell them, ‘Hey, watch for this, watch for that.'”
Pollard, an eight-year veteran, leads the Titans with 116 tackles and ranks second on the team with three interceptions and third with nine passes defensed. He had 12 tackles against Denver, including a season-high nine solo stops.
“I’m sure the guys on the other team are saying, ‘Hey, watch (Bernard) Pollard. He’s going to take some shots,'” Munchak said. “… You talk to these officials about it all the time during the week to build up so they’re looking for those things. Does that affect them? I don’t know.”
Hunter continues to emerge
Rookie wide receiver Justin Hunter was one of the steals of last spring’s NFL draft, after being selected in the second round (34th overall) out of the University of Tennessee.
With a 41-yard touchdown reception against Denver, Hunter eclipsed 100 yards receiving for the second time in three games. He also led the Titans with a career-high 114 yards on four catches after gaining 109 yards in the win at Oakland on Nov. 24.
Hunter’s four touchdowns equal the most by a Titans rookie in a season — joining teammate Kendall Wright last season and former Tyrone Calico in 2003 — since Chris Sanders had nine TD catches in 1995.
On the team’s first drive against Denver, Hunter caught a 57-yard pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to set up Tennessee’s first score.