There have been several times over the years when the end of the season left the Tennessee Titans and their fans thinking, “It could have been worse.”
Things looked particularly bleak in 2009, with a 0-6 start capped by a 59-0 loss at New England. Somehow, sparked by the switch to Vince Young at quarterback, that team won eight of its final 10 games and finished at .500. It was similar to 2006, Young’s rookie season, when the Titans opened 0-5 but finished 8-8 and nearly made the playoffs.
Since 1999, when the franchise took on its current nickname and color scheme, and moved into its current home, LP Field, it has finished with a losing record just four times. The first of those was a 7-9 in 2001, which was still worth watching given that with two weeks to go there still was a chance for a winning record.
The current season is guaranteed to be the fifth. Tennessee enters the Monday night game against the New York Jets (7:30 p.m., ESPN) at 4-9, with three straight defeats and five losses in the last six games. Any playoff possibilities are long gone, and any lingering optimism from last year’s surprising 9-7 is fading fast.
“The games aren’t ending up the way we hoped they would right now,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We’re just going to keep battling through this thing the next three weeks and put the best guys on the field and play with a positive attitude and fight our way through this thing and not feel sorry for ourselves.”
Still, the way many inside the organization see it, things could be worse.
“We’ve been trying to reset for the past … I don’t know how many weeks,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “You turn on the film and it’s not like we’re getting crushed or playing bad. … We just have to play smarter and take advantage of some of the plays that are there.”
At best, the Titans still can finish 7-9 this season, which would not be awful. Then again, 4-12 also is a possibility, which would match the worst record of the Titans era.
History often offers insight into current events. With that in mind, The City Paper looks at the worst Tennessee Titans teams ever and how this current one compares.
• Record: 6-10
• What went wrong: Jeff Fisher’s final season will forever be defined by what happened during a 19-16 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Nov. 21. Quarterback Vince Young was forced to the sideline with an injury but was able — and willing — to return. Fisher instead stuck with Kerry Collins. The coach and quarterback traded words in the locker room before Young stormed out. The Titans were 5-4 going into that game but won just once the rest of the season.
• Notable performances: Wide receiver Randy Moss caught a mere six passes for 80 yards in eight games after he was claimed off waivers. Defensive end Jason Babin was a free agent revelation with 12.5 sacks. Wide receiver Kenny Britt had a breakout performance with 225 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Week 7, but sustained serious hamstring injury in the next game.
• Current comparisons: Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster have worked hard to stock the roster with hard-working, motivated players, so there’s not likely to be a repeat of the Young fiasco. However, Britt still struggles with injuries that keep him from producing on a weekly basis. Also, in terms of wins and losses, things took a turn for the worse in November and early December, just as they have this season.
• Record: 4-12
• What went wrong: This was the undeniable conclusion to what was a memorable start to the Titans era. After four playoff appearances in five years and a 56-24 regular-season record from 1999-2004, general manager Floyd Reese and Co. finally had to pay the salary-cap piper. Cornerback Samari Rolle, wide receiver Derrick Mason, defensive end Kevin Carter, tackle Fred Miller, running back Robert Holcombe and kicker Joe Nedney all were cut to create cap space. To make things worse, Rolle and Mason ended up in Baltimore.
• Notable performances: Quarterback Steve McNair threw for 3,161 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final season with the team. Rookie Pacman Jones did not have an interception but showed his explosiveness with a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown and an 85-yard kickoff return. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch paid huge dividends as an affordable free agent who delivered 12.5 sacks.
• Current comparisons: The starting safeties, Tank Williams and Lamont Thompson, hardly were spectacular, which had a lot to do with the fact that opponents threw 33 touchdown passes, the most allowed during the Titans era and the most by any NFL team that season. That number is being threatened this year as defensive coordinator Jerry Gray constantly mixes and matches as many as four safeties. Opponents have thrown 25 touchdown passes — and counting — thus far. At the start of this week, only two teams had allowed more.
• Record: 5-11
• What went wrong: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. Linebacker Peter Sirmon never made it out of training camp because of a knee. Quarterback Steve McNair played just eight games and never started more than three in a row because of recurring issues with his sternum. Safety Lance Schulters sustained a season-ending foot injury in Week 3, and cornerback Samari Rolle missed the final five games with a knee injury. Even right guard Benji Olson missed a game with a groin injury, the only time during a seven-year stretch he was not in uniform. The defense was most adversely affected — it was 10th in the league in yards allowed after Week 11 but finished 27th.
• Notable performances: Backup quarterback Billy Volek had four touchdown passes and threw for more than 400 yards in consecutive games — and the Titans lost both. Wide receivers Drew Bennett and Derrick Mason became the fifth pair of wide receivers in franchise history to each top 1,000 yards receiving. Both also were named Pro Bowl alternates. Running back Chris Brown became the third back in NFL history to rush for 100 yards or more in four of his first five career starts and finished with 1,067.
• Current comparisons: The Titans start this week with 14 players on injured reserve, including five regular or occasional starters. Other than that, things are moving in the opposite direction. These Titans did not run the ball well early but have gotten better. The defense was terrible early but has improved, albeit only from 31st in yards allowed through Week 4 to 26th now.