They were a team in transition when the lockout ended roughly four months ago, but with five weeks remaining in the regular season the Tennessee Titans suddenly are the standard of stability in the AFC South.
On Tuesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars fired coach Jack Del Rio and the Indianapolis Colts fired their defensive coordinator, Larry Coyer, and announced a change at quarterback. The Houston Texans’ preparations centered around their third different starting quarterback in as many games and the addition of a second out-of-work veteran in as many weeks at that spot.
The Titans, who trail the Texans by two games in the division race, will play all three one more time before the end of the season.
“People are going to pay attention to what’s going on around the league — this is their business,” coach Mike Munchak said. “There are 31 other teams and [players] are going to keep track of what’s happening. You just can’t dwell on it.
“You just don’t get consumed by other people’s business. When you come in on Wednesday, it’s all about us and what we need to do to beat Buffalo.”
Tennessee (6-5) plays at Buffalo (5-6) this Sunday and then hosts New Orleans on Dec. 11.
Then comes the closing run against division opponents, only one of which the Titans defeated the first time they played this season. All three are dramatically different than in those prior encounters, though.
“If we were playing them next week it would matter,” Munchak said. “… We’re just concentrating on what we can control.”
The Titans are the only team in the division that has had the same starting quarterback for every game this season. Matt Hasselbeck made it back on the field last Sunday after having failed to finish the previous game due to an elbow injury.
Jacksonville has used two, Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert, after it waived veteran David Garrard days before the start of the regular season.
Indianapolis has tried Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter in place of the injured Peyton Manning. Collins was injured during his third appearance and placed on injured reserve. Painter’s inability to win a game led the team to announce Tuesday that Dan Orlovsky would get the start this week.
Houston, likewise, will have its third different starter in rookie T.J. Yates. Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart each sustained a season-ending injury in the last two games. The Texans also have added out-of-work veterans Kellen Clemens and Jake Delhomme in order to maintain their depth.
“I think it’s great for us,” Munchak said “We like it for the consistency. … We have better depth on this team than maybe people think we have. But you want to keep it consistent. We want to keep Matt healthy and us going forward.
“If it ends up being wins, that’s all that matters as far as having Matt healthy versus whatever is going on around the league.”
The Colts, the NFL’s only winless team, also fired Coyer with their defense ranked 29th overall and 31st against the pass.
The Jaguars (3-8) went one better when they dumped Del Rio during his ninth season on the job. Del Rio was 68-71 with two playoff appearances (one victory) in his eight full seasons. Their defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker, was promoted to interim coach.
Tennessee has dealt with some personnel issues along the way, including the season-ending injury to wide receiver Kenny Britt in Week 3, but nothing to the degree of the others in their division.
The latest issue was at right tackle. Last Sunday against Tampa Bay, Mike Otto started in place of the injured David Stewart (calf), which was the first time this season the starting offensive line was not the same as in Week 1.
It was just the second career start for Otto, now in his fifth season. With him in there, the Titans and running back Chris Johnson had their best rushing performance of the season. Johnson ran for 190 yards, the third-highest total of his career and nearly as many yards as he had in the previous three games combined.
“[Stewart] is our guy and our starter and all of that good stuff and he is a great player for us,” Munchak said. “But we felt that we had three good tackles and [Otto] went out there and proved us right and played well. … [He] just did a lot of things well in the game and you need to have that.
“We lost our wide receiver. We all have issues with injuries. Everyone does every year. It’s just a matter of who deals with them best.”