34-13. 38-10. 38-14. 30-7. 51-20. 24-10. 55-7.
Those were seven scores from the 2012 Tennessee Titans. The Titans were on the wrong end on all of them. Seven of their 10 losses came in double-digit fashion. Six of those losses exceeded 20 points. Their biggest loss came in a 55-7 shellacking at Lambeau Field versus the Green Bay Packers. That was the fifth time that Tennessee had surrendered at least 38 points in a game.
Head coach Mike Munchak promised fans that he wouldn’t disappoint. His third season was supposed to end a playoff drought that dates back to Jan. 2009. It was supposed to end a playoff-winless drought that dates back to Jan. 2004.
Three-fourths of the 2013 schedule has been completed. The Titans are ahead of where they were a year ago at this point—slightly. Investing $100 million into this roster has transformed a 4-8 team into a 5-7 team. Their biggest loss came against the San Francisco 49ers, 31-17. Every game has been winnable in the fourth quarter.
Blowout defeats aren’t the only thing that are disappearing. The Titans played within seven points of the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. That’s the same place where the New Orleans Saints (9-3) lost 34-7 on the Dec. 2 edition of Monday Night Football. With an 11-1 record, the Seahawks are the perfect example of a team who would’ve secured at least a 30-point victory in 2012.
Improving blowout losses to single-digit losses. Is that enough to save Coach Munchak and his staff from, barring a miracle, a third consecutive playoff-less season? Last season was frustrating because nearly half the games were over before the fourth quarter. This season has been frustrating because, time and time again, victory gets snatched from the jaws of defeat. Wasted opportunity after wasted opportunity.
Week 14 provides the most critical game in Munchak’s coaching career. When the Denver Broncos host the Titans, Tennessee will face the most explosive offense it has faced to date. Ryan Fitzpatrick comes off a four-turnover performance. A turnover-prone offense will only create more opportunities for Peyton Manning and a team that averages approximately 39 points per game. Denver is on pace to own the all-time NFL record that the 2007 New England Patriots hold (589 points).
Don’t expect the Broncos to lie down. This is their first game since John Fox‘s heart procedure that sidelined him for the past month. They hold a one-game lead against the New England Patriots. Denver can’t afford to surrender home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to Tom Brady, who’d hold a huge advantage in that Foxborough weather.
What about the mental state of the Titans players? How long before this team cracks from losing all these winnable matchups? Falling behind early could lead to an avalanche effect. They must get off to a quick start, control the football, limit Denver to field goals instead of touchdowns, and avoid the silly errors that turn an end-of-half stalled drive into a guaranteed three points for the opponents.
The Titans are a 12.5-point underdog. Munchak is looking for some help…from Mother Nature:
“The worse the weather, probably the better for us,” Munchak said. “Hopefully it’s a big snowstorm & it will give us a great chance to win.”
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) December 2, 2013
Remember that 2009 snowstorm that ended in a 59-0 blowout? Careful what you wish for. Manning isn’t the only one who isn’t accustomed to such weather conditions. As a whole team, the Broncos are much more acclimated to playing in those weather conditions, especially with the thinner air. Chris Johnson hasn’t had his greatest games against Denver.
Consider this a measuring stick. Are the Titans capable of beating the AFC’s best team? Are they anywhere close? Munchak, players and coaches have a chance to prove themselves. Last year’s team would’ve got blown out, 50-something to 14. Was 14 points too generous? Maybe from last season’s train wreck.
More unlikely results have occurred. In 2011, a 5-8 Kansas City Chiefs team pulled off a Week 15 upset against a 13-0 Green Bay Packers team, 19-14. The Packers were another offensive juggernaut who gave up large chunks of points. Here’s a Titans team whose playoff aspirations rest on winning this game. It’s a must-win game not just for that playoff berth but Munchak’s coaching career beyond 2013.
Munchak hasn’t proven that his teams can win key matchups. He holds a 4-12 record against AFC South opponents. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 against them. They’re 0-4 this season. That’s inexcusable when one considers that two of those losses came against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, a combined 5-19. Both teams are fighting for the No. 1 draft pick.
Few people expect a Titans victory. What Munchak can’t afford is a blowout loss. About the only thing his supporters can defend him with is that this team has been much more competitive in their losses. Another 20-point or more defeat and that goes out the window.
The Titans were competitive against the Seahawks. A non-competitive game against the Broncos would prove that this team has regressed. For a head coach who’s on the hot seat as the end of his third season approaches, Munchak can’t afford that.
These coaches had better field a team of players who are playing as though their careers depend on it; they do.