- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s hard to go winless in the NFL. Probably as hard, I've long maintained, as is it to go undefeated. Recent teams that have been in danger of it have been fortunate to find Mike Munchak’s Tennessee Titans on their schedule.
Two years ago, Munchak’s Titans lost to the 0-13 Colts. Sunday, they lost to the 0-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, 29-27 at LP Field. And though the 2012 version of the Jaguars weren’t winless, they were headed for 2-14, and the Titans lost to them, too.
Jacksonville loves playing the Titans. The Jaguars have won eight games since 2011, and three of them have been over Tennessee.
Munchak takes too many hits from Titans fans over his sideline demeanor; he’s more animated than Tony Dungy or Tom Landry ever were. And there are plenty of other issues to highlight about the job he’s done en route to a 19-22 record in three seasons as the head coach. Take his inability to throw a challenge flag in time to get a review in the first quarter, if you want a small moment. Take his team’s penchant for losing to really bad teams, if you prefer something broad.
“It was flipped: We were the Jaguars, they were the Titans,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “We played like we were 0-8.”
The Titans were lifeless from the start, and Chris Johnson fumbled on the first play from scrimmage to set a terrible day in motion. Along the way, quarterback Jake Locker, returner Damian Williams and center Brian Schwenke were lost to injuries.
Walker, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and safeties George Wilson and Bernard Pollard all took umbrage with the idea that Munchak and the coaching staff are to blame for the disastrous result. But three of those four outspoken leaders are new to the franchise. At 4-5 in their first season with the team, it’s unlikely they've reached the breaking point for giving candid reviews of the boss.
“There is no question, there is no question at all, did this coaching staff have us prepared? Absolutely they did,” Wilson said. “The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t come out there and do anything different than what we practiced. Coaching staffs put the game plan together. Coaches don’t do out there and play.
“It’s not the coaching staff’s fault that we came out slow. You can’t put that on them. It’s on the 11 men that are in that huddle.”
The Titans' new ownership group was at the game, though an accident caused game-day traffic that forced the cancellation of their introduction to the local media before the game. Tommy Smith is the CEO and team president now, following the death of his father-in-law, Bud Adams. Smith was at the game with his wife, Susie Adams Smith, and her sister, Amy Adams Hunt. The two are the team’s co-chairpersons.
Munchak is said to be in good standing with the family; he gave one of the two eulogies at Adams’ funeral. But surely the trio had bigger expectations for its first time in Nashville in their new roles. Surely, too, they know rash reactions are not a solution. Munchak’s footing can’t be as good as it was before this game.
Veteran safety Michael Griffin said the team was lacked energy from the start, had no hop. All week they said they wouldn’t get caught looking past the Jaguars, presuming a win and anticipating the big showdown with Indianapolis on Thursday.
“We came out here like we looked past this team, and they spanked us,” Walker said.
I don’t believe a coach and his staff should be responsible for igniting their team. I do believe they should have a strong feeling for which way the winds are blowing. If the pilot light goes out, a coach and his people should be equipped to help restart it. Good coaches help dead teams find life once in a while, especially against inferior opponents.
I think Munchak, a Hall of Fame player, would agree with his players that the primary responsibility is on them.
A coach has to have the right collection of players to get that, though. Munchak talked after his second season of not having the players he needed. So the Titans brought in 22 new ones that were on the roster against the Jaguars. None of them arrived over an objection from Munchak.
But this group he helped assemble does not appear to be sufficiently self-starting. And as a coach, he’s ill-equipped to get them back on track.
“We allowed things to happen to us today that shouldn’t happen to us in any game,” he said, pointing to four turnovers and a safety.
Note the word choice. The Titans "allowed" it. Passive teams allow things, and one of the most heralded guards in league history has a team that’s too often passive.
When he made major changes to his coaching staff and when he targeted significant free agents, Munchak suggested a new aggressiveness. It seemed part of his promise when he pledged to fans at training camp: “Believe me, we will not disappoint you this year.”
As for losing to bad teams, he talked, as he often does after bad moments, about how he doesn’t have answers.
“We thought when the smoke cleared, we’d play well enough and win the football game,” Munchak said. “We didn’t do that. … A good team finds a way to come back in this game and win this thing. We should have found a way to win this football [game] and we didn’t.”
With 2:32 left in the game, Jaguars cornerback Will Blackmon stole a ball from Titans backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and ran it back for a touchdown that provided the winning margin. After the game, Blackmon showed reporters that he’d written two goals on little pieces of paper before the game. One was to get coach Gus Bradley a game ball. The other was to cause a fumble.
Game plans on bigger pieces of paper haven’t been working for the Titans. Maybe the Titans ought to follow Blackmon’s lead.
It’s hard to know exactly what the first little piece of paper should say. There’s a lot to choose from. Any suggestions?