Streak ends but Titans still tied atop AFC South
Mike Munchak looks at Tennessee's schedule and sees opportunities.
Yes, the Titans' three-game winning streak is over, and they still need to get Chris Johnson untracked. Special teams needs some fixing, and cutting down on penalties also will be a focus after a 38-17 loss in Pittsburgh.
But the Titans enter the bye week 3-2 and tied atop the AFC South with the Houston Texans. When they return, the Titans play three straight games at home, where they are 2-0.
''That's exactly what we have to hang our hat on now,'' Munchak said Monday.
''We hoped we sat here 4-1 saying that. We didn't. So yeah, I think the fact that at home we played well both times. At home we won both our games. We know how much advantage it is for us, and that's something we'll definitely be shooting for. Long-range plan ... we lost our first game of the second quarter, and now we have to make up for it by winning all three, the next three at home. So we'll feel a lot better when we do that.''
The best part of that pending homestand is that Tennessee starts by hosting the Texans (3-2) on Oct. 23 followed by a visit from Indianapolis (0-5) and then Cincinnati (3-2). Tennessee and Munchak set winning the AFC South as the team's top goal, and that remains very possible for a franchise that hasn't won the division since 2008.
''You're always going to keep focus on your division and what it's going to take to win it,'' Munchak said. ''Winning every Sunday takes care of that. But you're also going to keep an eye on what's going on within the division, and we know we're playing the Texans our next division game that we play. ... We're in position to have a big game coming up in two weeks against them.''
First, the Titans need to work on that run game. They rank last in the NFL for a third straight week. Chris Johnson opened with a 21-yard run but finished with only 51 yards on 14 carries. They are averaging 66.6 yards rushing. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, Munchak can't do what teams did when he played and go into pads for most of the week.
Instead, the Titans will practice Tuesday before getting the rest of the week off. They won't return until Monday for an extra day of work before focusing on the Texans. Munchak said they all know the run game must get better. He fended off a question on whether Johnson, who held out all preseason before getting a $53 million extension, is less aggressive hitting the holes.
Munchak said Johnson is running the way he runs and isn't going to change his style. The coach said Johnson needs to play better and the Titans need to block better. But Munchak is not considering any lineup changes just yet.
''He's having 50 yards a game. That's not going to cut it. He's a great player, and he needs to play great. Right now, that's not happening,'' Munchak said.
Johnson left the game with a few minutes left due to some tightness in his hamstring, but Munchak said the running back would be ready to play Sunday if they didn't have a bye. Johnson said going into the bye with the loss is tough.
''We have to think about this loss for two weeks straight, just until we can get back on the field and get a victory,'' Johnson said after the game.
The Titans also must improve their discipline. They were penalized nine times for 70 yards, and two early penalties helped turn first-and-goal on the opening drive into a field goal. A block-in-the-back penalty wiped out Cortland Finnegan's 30-yard return for a touchdown on the punt blocked by Tim Shaw. The Titans later scored off that drive, but burned three more minutes off the clock.
Special teams had problems, too. Yes, the Titans recovered an onside kick and blocked that punt, but they also gave up a 52-yard kickoff return after taking their lone lead of the game and watched Steelers punter Dan Sepulveda complete a 33-yard pass over the middle on fourth-and-5.
Finnegan was near the line before turning to run back downfield to set up for the return. Munchak wouldn't say which player blew the assignment protecting against the fake but said it wasn't Finnegan, the defensive captain.
''We've just got to get more consistent at a lot of things we're doing,'' the coach said.