NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee has no time to think about what could have or would have been if Peyton Manning had chosen to be a Titan in March 2012.
They're too busy preparing to defend him once again.
This week provides a painful reminder of what might have been if the Titans had been able to successfully sign Peyton the free agent. At their owner's bidding, they wooed the four-time NFL MVP hard with a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as head coach leading the way only to lose out to Denver and another Hall of Famer in John Elway.
Coach Mike Munchak recalls the chase as exciting and thinks the Titans were right there with the Broncos at the end. Munchak says they knew Manning makes people around him better and wins, which is why owner Bud Adams, who died in October, wanted the quarterback so much.
"Obviously, it's worked out well for him, but it just shows what difference he can make on the team he's on," Munchak said.
What a difference indeed.
The Broncos (10-2) are atop the AFC chasing home-field advantage after going 13-3 in Manning's first season.
The Titans (5-7) are struggling — again — to put together wins and starting a third different quarterback since missing out on Manning. They started both Jake Locker and Matt Hasselbeck going 6-10 last season, and now it's Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback with Locker out for the rest of this season with an injured right foot.
Manning is having one of his best seasons yet with 41 touchdown passes already and 4,125 yards and a 115.3 passer rating. In 12 games, Manning has only nine interceptions while Fitzpatrick has been picked off seven times in his five starts and seven appearances.
Munchak spent hours breaking down film with Manning, and the Titans worked the quarterback out in Knoxville in a session moved away from reporters.
"He's special," Munchak said. "There's not many guys like him around. You can see that when you spend time with him."
Manning wouldn't indicate how close the Titans came in losing out to Denver on Wednesday in a conference call with Tennessee reporters. He didn't want to go back down memory lane during a game week, but Manning called it a whirlwind process with the Titans first-class with him, which included a couple conversations with Adams.
He compared the decision to the challenge of picking a college. But this recruitment could not have been more public or in a short period of time.
"I enjoyed the time that I spent with the Titans' organization," Manning said. "Obviously, I had to pick one place. You can only go to one place, and I picked Denver. I've worked hard every day to try and make it a good choice."
Not everyone was so eager to see Manning land in Tennessee.
Receiver Nate Washington said he felt very confident in Locker going into his second season, so he tried to keep his quarterback's confidence up by texting regularly. Washington is not among those thinking of what might be different if Manning picked Titans' Columbia blue.
"The reality of it is we don't have him, we didn't have him at the time, we don't have him now," Washington said. "As great as it would be to imagine a situation like that, this is real life."
Cornerback Jason McCourty thinks it was good the Titans were in the chase. He would not have minded picking Manning's brain to see how the quarterback dissects a defense before, during and after a snap or the challenge of practicing against him daily.
"But we didn't get that opportunity," McCourty said.
Notes: TE Delanie Walker and Craig Stevens (concussions) did not practice, though Stevens did some running on a side field Wednesday. RT David Stewart (shoulder) also did not practice along with P Brett Kern (sore back). WR Kendall Wright (ankle) was limited, and WR Damian Williams (hip) was limited in his return after missing three games.
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