Even in the best of times the Tennessee Titans don’t typically garner a lot of national attention.
Often they have earned little or no Pro Bowl invitations, even when several were warranted. Recall, for example, 2002 when they made it all the way to the AFC Championship game, but only defensive end Kevin Carter got to Hawaii — and that was as a late replacement when someone else was injured.
That makes the fact that the whole NFL world will be watching Monday more than a little bit troublesome. These hardly are the best of times.
The Titans have lost three in a row and nine of 13 this season as they step into the prime-time spotlight of a Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets. That’s right, the Jets, who are the anti-Titans in the sense that their local media and numerous national outlets dwell on every little detail of their progress, no matter how mundane.
Of all the times for prying eyes to get a glimpse.
The pregame show, no doubt, will devote a disproportionate amount of time to the Jets, but when the Titans are brought up, the discussion will focus on what’s wrong. Coach Mike Munchak will be put under the microscope. So will quarterback Jake Locker, wide receiver Kenny Britt, running back Chris Johnson and others — none of whom have exactly breezed through this season.
If the game goes poorly and the Titans lose again, the postgame discussion will center on whether or not the issues were similar to the ones mentioned prior to kickoff or whether or whole new set of troubles emerged.
Generally speaking, even with this season’s struggles, there hasn’t been a lot of public pressure on owner Bud Adams to fire Munchak, who has a great deal of equity from his exemplary career as a player and an assistant coach with the franchise. Plus, his first season was a pleasant surprise to most.
This season has been surprisingly bad, though, and for one day, that will be a primary topic of discussion across the league.
That kind of chatter can shift public opinion pretty quickly and maybe even put a few negative thoughts in the head of the owner, if they weren’t there already.
All of which makes this a very important contest for the Titans.
It’s not much different from when Pittsburgh came to town for a Thursday night back in October.
Then the Titans were 1-4 and getting blown out pretty much on a weekly basis. The buildup included lengthy looks at what was wrong with the run game, the pass defense and how the team would fare without Locker, injured a little more than a week earlier.
The Titans not only beat the Steelers 26-23, they made plays on defense when it counted, they got a solid performance out of Johnson and the run game, and backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck threw for a season-high 290 yards.
Granted, the NFL Network, which broadcasts the Thursday contests, does not have the reach or cachet of ESPN, which does the Monday night games. Pittsburgh, though, is similar to New York in the amount of national interest it commands, and the simple truth is that it was the only game on at that hour, so a lot of folks were watching who might not otherwise be inclined to see the Titans.
The takeaway from that night was that maybe the Titans weren’t so bad, after all. Maybe they just needed a little more time to get things together.
Now comes another opportunity to show that they are not as dreadful as their record suggests. Either that, or an atypically large number of people will see just how bad it really is.