A day later, there still was plenty of blame to go around, and coach Mike Munchak made it clear that everyone was accountable for the Tennessee Titans’ 51-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
“We’re all in this thing together,” he said at his regular Monday press briefing. “We lose together, we win together. I think these guys believe that part of it. … We’re all unhappy and we didn’t lose that game because of one guy. We lost that game because of all of us — 53 [players] plus the coaching staff — [are] responsible for where we’re at right now. I think that’s the thing they realize.
“… I said some of that stuff [Monday] to the players. It’s their decision how they handle themselves. They decide on their attitude and how they’re going to handle their situation, but I think so far it’s been as good as it can be under the circumstances.”
Of all the things that went wrong against the Bears — and their were plenty — Munchak stressed that the attitude and competitiveness of his players never wavered. Not after the five turnovers. Not after the blocked punt or the long punt return. Not after any of Jay Cutler’s three touchdown passes to wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Perhaps no player better embodied what Munchak saw in his team better than Chris Johnson.
The running back lost two fumbles and committed a penalty when he failed to line up properly prior to the snap. He also scored on an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and finished with 141 yards on 16 carries against what was the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense at the start of the day. He also, according to his coach, displayed a competitive attitude all the way to the finish.
“The last play of the game they ran a safety blitz and he knocked the guy in his butt,” Munchak said. “He could have gone in there half-a**** or whatever but he wouldn’t have made the play.”
“People get this perspective that because you lose you’re not trying and the game doesn’t mean anything. Believe me, he doesn’t want to fumble the football. It means a lot to him that he put the ball on the ground. He knows that he hurt the football team and all that stuff. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to hang his head. He knows that he could get embarrassed the next play also.”
Early in the season, Johnson virtually vanished from the stat sheet in games such as this one. Three times in the Titans’ first four defeats he carried 15 times or fewer and did not have an attempt longer than nine yards. When games got out of hand, coaches abandoned the run in favor a steady passes.
Against Chicago, 11 of Johnson’s rushes came in the final three quarters despite the fact that Tennessee trailed by 26 points (28-2) after 15 minutes.
“I thought we ran the ball very well against a real good football team,” Munchak said. “… Yeah we were behind, but that didn’t mean that they wanted to give up an 80-yard run or a 15-yard run or some of the runs we had there. We stuck with it for a reason. We felt that was the best way to stay with it without putting everything on Matt [Hasselbeck] and the receivers for the next three quarters, that we had to get back to our offense.”
Johnson’s latest outing was a microcosm of his entire season. He got off to a terrible start with 45 yards on 33 carries through the first three games and no touchdowns for the first six.
Now, having rushed for more than 90 yards in each of the last four weeks and with three 100-yard efforts in the last six, he currently ranks second in AFC with 736 rushing yards.
“There’s only so much good to look for in a game when it’s that way,” Munchak said. “I get that. … But you have to build on stuff for next week so there’s still a lot of plays in there that were made by players that were good to watch.
“… NFL players don’t quit on stuff and I didn’t see any of these guys quitting. We didn’t win and didn’t play well, but we didn’t quit on anything.”