Titans upset may reverse the season

In his final NFL season as a player back in 1993, Mike Munchak was part of a Houston Oilers squad that got off to a 1-4 start.

The team was in turmoil, searching for answers. Then an upset victory sparked a huge turnaround — and an 11-game winning streak that sent to team into the playoffs.

With a 26-23 win over the Steelers on Thursday night, the 2012 Titans changed the tone of conversations about a team that started 1-4.

The Titans had the weekend then travel to Buffalo next Sunday to take on the Bills.

“Anything is possible,” Munchak said. “Does that mean because we won this game we are going to beat Buffalo? No. But I think it gives you that kind of confidence.”

Was the win at LP Field over a banged-up Steelers team the kind of win that will spark a turnaround? The Titans still have plenty of issues, including having been outscored by more than three touchdowns in each of their four losses.

The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt and John Glennon came up with three reasons Titans fans can be optimistic, and three reasons fans should perhaps be pessimistic:

Weapons heating up

The Titans boast that they have a lot of offensive weapons. Yet those weapons continually misfired through the first five games.

It all seemed to come together against the Steelers, however.

Wide receiver Kenny Britt is finally getting healthy, and should be more of a playmaker in the coming weeks. Rookie Kendall Wright seems to get more comfortable with each game. Britt and Wright take pressure off veteran Nate Washington, who remains a proven threat.

Now, if the Titans could just find a way to get tight end Jared Cook more involved in a regular basis.

Chris Johnson is fresh

He’s been the most maligned player on the team, and deservedly so. Running back Chris Johnson’s big contract turned into an anchor that weighed down the offense.

His best two performances of the season came in two of the last three games, however. He ran for 141 yards against the Texans and 91 against the Steelers.

There was a time when anything less than 100 yards from Johnson was a disappointment. But his effectiveness recently would seem to indicate the rushing offense is going to see better days.

Schedule gets easier

The combined record of the Titans’ first six opponents was 18-11 going into the weekend. The road ahead isn’t nearly as tough.

The combined record of the next 10 opponents was 23-25. Only two of the next 10 opponents have winning records: Bears and Texans. The Titans get to face the lowly Jaguars — perhaps the worst team in the NFL — twice.

Three reasons to be pessimistic

No clear strength

The Titans played their best all-round game against the Steelers, but what exactly is this team’s strength?

The offense hasn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown and remains ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per game, first downs per game and time of possession.

The defense is still ranked near the bottom in yards per game, first downs allowed and points allowed.

So it’s hard to envision the Titans being strong enough in any one category to exert their will consistently on opponents — the way New England does with its offense or Houston with its defense.

Two key nagging injuries

So far, middle linebacker Colin McCarthy and quarterback Jake Locker have played in two complete games each. That’s bad news, considering McCarthy is very likely the most valuable defensive player and Locker is one of the big keys to the offense.

But what’s even more ominous is that both their injuries aren’t going away completely. McCarthy suffered his high-ankle in Week 1 and is still not 100 percent. Locker’s shoulder has already popped out twice in four games, so who knows what the next hard hit will mean?

Too many turnovers

Even after coming up with a big interception against the Steelers, the Titans still have a minus-six turnover ratio, leaving them tied for fourth-worst in the league. Very talented teams might be able to get away with that kind of differential.

In his last three appearances, Matt Hasselbeck has thrown four interceptions and lost one fumble. Those numbers could be worse, but he got away with some mistakes.

Reach Jim Wyatt at 615-259-8015 or jwyatt@tennessean.com. Reach John Glennon at 615-259-8262 orjglennon@tennessean.com.

Written by
Jim Wyatt and John Glennon
The Tennessean


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