The Tennessee Titans stood at 4-4 at the midway point of this 2013 season and were entering a crossroads. As Yankee great Yogi Berra might say, the Titans took the wrong fork.
A 1-3 third quarter has left Tennessee at 5-7, and the playoffs are little more than a dream. An unimaginable 29-27 loss to previously 0-8 Jacksonville coupled with the loss of Jake Locker, effectively ruined the season then and there. A blown two-touchdown lead on the Thursday night to the Colts further sunk the Titans. Though some optimism was felt after the last-minute win in Oakland, reality set in with the poor performance in Indianapolis on Sunday.
Coming this Sunday is a trip to Denver to face Peyton Manning and the 10-2 Broncos. If Tennessee can shock the world there, they still face an improved Arizona team back at LP Field. Win that one as well and a 9-7 finish would still be possible with rematches against Jacksonville and Houston to close out the year. It will take absolutely nothing less than running the table (and getting lots of help) for the Titans playoff drought to end.
Miracles certainly happen in sports. Ask any Auburn fan about that one, and we know it from our own experience here. But this team winning four straight from here to make the playoffs would be a sports miracle on par with those for sure.
The loss of Locker has been an albatross this team cannot free itself of. Locker’s maturity had taken him, and this team, to a new level. But just as those fruits were starting to be enjoyed, injury happened. Ryan Fitzpatrick is simply not good enough; Buffalo knew it and now we know it. He has been little more than a turnover waiting to happen. He has been like a younger Jake Locker, only without the physical skills Locker has always had. He never became a good decision maker (as Locker was beginning to be) before he got hurt, and the results have spoken for themselves.
But maybe it was not as much the offensive line’s fault as we assumed. Why did Chris Johnson’s production fall off so much? A rebuilt o-line has yielded only slightly better numbers, if at all. Johnson still has averaged but 3.8 yards per carry, and another 1,000-yard season is far from guaranteed. An effort has been made to throw him the ball to get him out in space. Those results have been a bit better, but Chris Johnson is no longer proving to be a franchise player anymore.
Kendall Wright has really come into his own in his second season, and we saw how important Delanie Walker has become when Fitzpatrick no longer had him in Indy after suffering a concussion. Jurrell Casey has become of Pro-Bowl-caliber on the defensive line, and Alterraun Verner has too at corner. But the mess that is offense and the disaster that has been the return game has not allowed the Titans to gain enough traction.
Now Tennessee stands on the outside looking in, and questions are already being asked about 2014. More on that in four games, for now the Titans need another miracle to keep playing into January.