It is the classic optimist/pessimist conundrum.
With a 4-4 mark halfway through the 2011 season, there is reason to believe that the playoffs remain a distinct possibility for the Tennessee Titans. After all, the team with the best record in the AFC — the Cincinnati Bengals — is just 6-2, a difference of just two games.
Then again, the climb into playoff position is a long one. Seven teams came out of last weekend with better records and three others, including Oakland and San Diego — teams that met Thursday night – were 4-4 in their own right. Add it up and only five AFC teams had worse records than Tennessee at the start of play this week.
“You can only win them one at a time obviously but we have to get a winning streak going and we know that,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We can’t go win one, lose one the rest of the year or we are going to sit here at .500 and that’s not going to get us anywhere. We need to make a stand somewhere.”
Franchise history suggests that 4-4 can, in fact, serve as a launching pad to bigger and better things.
Four times in the last 20 years, the Titans/Oilers were .500 at the halfway mark. The most recent was 2002, and they won seven of their last eight, won the division and advanced to the AFC championship contest. In 1993, they went undefeated over the second half — they actually won their final 11 — and tied for the AFC’s best record.
“Certainly, we would like to win the rest of our games,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “That’s something we’ve talked about — we want to win the rest of our games.
“It’s doable. I’ve been on teams that have gone on a run. It’s not always easy but we can get that done.”
Of course, in 1993 and 2002, the team already was on a roll by the time it started the second half of the season. Both times, it went from 1-4 to 4-4 and maintained that momentum all the way into the postseason.
This year, the Titans have lost three of their last four, including a 24-17 last Sunday against Cincinnati.
In 1998, the 4-4 Tennessee Oilers got to 6-4 but then lost four of the final six finished 8-8. A year earlier, they went lose-win-lose-win beginning with the ninth game, never got any real momentum and finished 8-8.
“We have to continue to win,” running back Chris Johnson said. “We can’t win and then lose the next one. We’re 4-4 right now, so we just have to win more than we lose.”
The next three weeks ought to provide some real insight.
Tennessee is one of two AFC teams (Oakland is the other) that has yet to play a non-conference game. This season, teams from the AFC South play those from the NFC South and at this point Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville are a combined 0-6 in those games.
Sunday’s game between the Titans and Carolina Panthers (noon, CBS) is the first of three straight for the Titans against NFC South opponents. The last will be Dec. 11 at home against New Orleans.
“It’s disappointing to be 4-4 but at the same time you have to put it behind you,” guard Jake Scott said. “We have to get ready and play good football for the second half of the season. We’re not out of it by any means, so we definitely can control where we’re going.
“If we go out and play good football in the second half, we’ll be in the playoffs.”
That’s one way to look at it.”
• Munchak kept his responses measured to questions about Wednesday’s decision by Penn State trustees to fire Joe Paterno, the legendary football coach whose career included Munchak’s time there.
It was clear, though, the Titans coach was disappointed with move, which was part of the fallout from a scandal involving a long-time assistant coach at the university.
“I think most of us hoped that they would work through the details,” Munchak said. “… You hope that they gathered the information to make the best decision and I’m assuming that in their mind they did what was best for the university overall, not necessarily what was best for the football team or anybody else.”
• Despite sunny and temperate conditions, the Titans conducted their Thursday workout on their indoor field. The reason, according to Munchak, was simple.
“The wind,” he said. “If you went out there [Wednesday] the gusts were pretty strong, it affected the ball quite a bit. We are not going to see that this weekend in Carolina from what the weather is projected to be so we wanted to come inside so the quarterbacks could have a good day throwing and get the energy level up.”
• Hasselbeck was the only one of several key players who practiced Thursday after having sat out a day earlier.
“Some of the guys participated in walk through and were able to do all those things,” Munchak said.