In Mike Munchak’s first season as the Titans’ head coach, the team probably exceeded all expectations except perhaps those of the most optimistic of fans.
With a 23-22 win over Houston, Tennessee finished the season 9-7 and still had a playoff gasp of air left until the late games on the season’s final day. Those hopes were finally extinguished when the Broncos lost to the Chiefs, throwing the Titans at a disadvantage in the tiebreaker scenario.
Nonetheless, the Titans were in position to make an improbable march toward the playoffs despite long odds.
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Looking back at blown games against Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis — any one of those could have punched a postseason ticket for the Titans with a different result.
Still, the future looks bright, especially on the offense. Tennessee finished 12th in passing yardage.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Matt Hasselbeck put up solid numbers with more than 3,500 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. Rookie first-round pick Jake Locker mostly sat and learned this season, but he showed potential as a future franchise quarterback when his turn eventually comes.
Nate Washington became the first Titan since 2004 to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Tight end Jared Cook, though somewhat inconsistent, wound up with 49 receptions. Damian Williams also got a chance to improve with 45 catches in a starting role once Kenny Britt was injured. If Britt can return to something near the form he showed before suffering a torn ACL, Tennessee’s passing game has the potential to be its best since at least the glory days of Steve McNair’s passing career between 2001-04.
In addition, the Titans have reason to be excited about the way the 2011 rookie class played. Youngsters such as Colin McCarthy, Karl Klug and Jurrell Casey all played big roles in their first seasons, and with a full offseason, they should only get better.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The things that went wrong for the Titans start with the rushing attack — the holdout of Chris Johnson that ended with him signing a $53 million extension and then playing to the level of about a 10th of that. Johnson finished the year with 1,047 rushing yards, and the Titans are not paying him $30 million guaranteed for a shade over 65 yards a game.
Not all of the problems were Johnson’s fault, as the interior of the offensive line struggled to open holes and dominate opposing defensive linemen for much of the season. Look for the Titans to address this situation in the offseason to try and add some nastiness and attitude at either the guard or center position.
The line was an issue on defense as well. Despite solid play from rookies Klug and Casey, the pass rush was lacking in many instances, especially on the outside, where defensive end is a position that could be addressed.
The secondary will have to be fixed as well, as it was inconsistent, and four players — Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux — are free agents. Of that group, Finnegan and Babineaux would be the best to bring back, but the Titans might want to clear the decks on the back end with some fresh faces and attitudes.
FB Ahmard Hall, whose fumble nearly cost the Titans the game against Houston, suffered a concussion on the hit that caused the fumble.
T Mike Otto’s season ended early on Sunday, as he was knocked out of the game (literally) with a concussion on the opening kickoff.
WR Damian Williams suffered an injury to his ribs and left the game early. Williams finished the season with 45 receptions and five scores.
WR Donnie Avery, who had no catches for the season entering the finale against the Texans, caught three passes, including a touchdown on his first grab.
QB Matt Hasselbeck finished his first season as a Titan with 3,571 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. Those numbers were his highest totals since the 2007 season.