Published December 07, 2010
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The bottom has fallen out on the suddenly dysfunctional Tennessee Titans.
The team looked so good at 5-2 sitting atop the AFC South and scoring more points than anyone else in the NFL. Then the Titans just started to implode.
Not even a soap opera writer could dream up all the plot twists and turns this franchise has gone through during a dramatic collapse with five straight losses, including two where the Titans blew leads.
The Titans deny they have quit. They also insist they haven't been distracted by adding Randy Moss, Vince Young's histrionics after a season-ending thumb injury, the offensive coordinator's cancer diagnosis and even cornerback Cortland Finnegan's brawl with Andre Johnson.
Finnegan says he never could've imagined such a fall.
"Absolutely not. We were rocking and rolling at 5-2, felt good. Confident football team, and we were executing and it goes back to that," he said. "Guys, myself included, have to start executing. You start doing that you start winning."
The Titans still believe they have a great team.
"You saw that at the beginning of the year," safety Michael Griffin said. "People were talking about us highly. To see us go from a (5-2) record and haven't even won a ballgame since, I don't even know it's been so long ... that's crazy. Last year we started out real slow, and it seems like we just reversed it this year. We started out quickly, and we reversed it."
That they have.
The Titans opened 2009 with an 0-6 skid only to rebound by winning five straight. This franchise now has lost at least five games in five of the past seven seasons. With their fifth straight loss Sunday 17-6 to Jacksonville, the Titans are where they were a year ago at 5-7 going into a game with Indianapolis — Tennessee hosts the Colts (6-6) Thursday night.
Coach Jeff Fisher's job security, even with another year on his contract, is a hot topic of conversation in town. Some fans are tired of "Field Goal Fisher," noting he hasn't won a playoff game since the end of the 2003 season.
The longest-tenured coach with his current team looked worn-out after the last loss. Asked if his team expects to flip a switch, Fisher said he's focusing only on the Colts.
"We need to win the next game, period. That's it," Fisher said.
It seemed so easy when the Titans walked off their home field Oct. 24 after a 37-19 win over Philadelphia, though they had disguised some problems during their quick start.
With defenses targeting Chris Johnson, the offense has been unable to put together long drives or run clock to protect a lead during the losing streak. Even in that last win back in October the Titans needed a franchise-record 27 points in the fourth quarter to get past an Eagles' team playing without Michael Vick. Tennessee's Kenny Britt had the NFL's best game by a receiver that day with 225 yards receiving, a number that still stands.
Then Britt strained his right hamstring and hasn't played since.
A mere blip for the Titans, who claimed Moss off waivers on Nov. 4. Moss was hailed as the missing link for a Super Bowl run. But four games later, he has yet to catch his first TD pass with the Titans.
When the injuries started mounting for Young, so did the off-the-field drama.
Young reinjured his right ankle in San Diego and used the bye to open his steakhouse back in Austin, Texas. Then the quarterback tore his flexor tendon in his right thumb late against Washington and wasn't allowed to return to the game.
After the loss to the Redskins, Young tossed his shoulder pads into the stands as he was leaving the field. Afterward, he bolted the locker room, telling Fisher he was running out on the coach. The two have been at a virtual standoff since, not speaking in person — a situation that had owner Bud Adams telling the two to resolve the issue.
Despite the circus atmosphere and mounting losses, Collins said all the distractions haven't hurt the team.
"Those things, to me, go on during the week. On Sunday, you have got to be able to focus. That is just part of it," Collins said. "That happens all over the NFL. I don't sense that from our team. I sense that guys are focusing into it. We have just got to make more plays."
The playoffs still remain mathematically possible, but not for a team trying not to make the next mistake. Fisher is remaining optimistic even when asked if this is his most difficult season as head coach.
"The last few weeks have been a challenge, but I like to think that is when we do our best work is when we're facing challenges ...," Fisher said. "That's the approach you have to take."