- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.
Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?
Not anything good.
Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans game-planned for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.
It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.
“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...
“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”
Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.
But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?
“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”
Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.
“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”
He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.
“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”
The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.
“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
Britt’s lost fumble after a 23-yard pass from Hasselbeck.
The pair of illegal-formation penalties.
An illegal block above the waist by Jamie Harper on a kickoff return.
A false start by Al Afalava.
An interception Hasselbeck thrown directly to Brian Urlacher, who returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
The first of two lost Johnson fumbles.
The first of three Brandon Marshall touchdown catches.
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”
Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.
“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.
I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special teams coach, Alan Lowry.
The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.
“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”
“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”
Where do they go from here?
A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.
Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.
What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?
Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.
That didn’t happen.
After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.
Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.
1dEric D. Williams
1dEric D. Williams