Coach Mike Munchak preferred to keep the talk about his job security, or possible lack thereof, quiet until the Tennessee Titans play out the final three games of the season.
National media reports on Sunday came out saying that Munchak was "coaching for his job," a statement that is hardly a surprise among local beat writers and media people. Recently deceased Titans owner Bud Adams had stated at the start of the season that he expected this team, one that he poured $100 million into with free-agent spending, to be markedly improved and be in the playoff picture.
While the Titans have slumped to 5-8 and are all but out of contention, Munchak said his focus is on finishing strong in the last three games of the year in the wake of Sunday's 51-28 loss at Denver.
"We have three games to go. We've got a lot of football left to play yet. So that's not a concern right now," Munchak said. "To me, those are things that are end of the season, once we've played our last game, I'll have an opportunity to speak on how we go forward as a football team, like I did last year and the year before that. I've had that same discussion every year, so I'm assuming I'll have that discussion when the season ends. We'll have to see how this plays out, after we play the last three and all the results are in."
The only variable that has changed in Munchak's job is the fact that Adams' son-in-law, Tommy Smith, now has final say. Smith has said very little and has hidden in Houston for the most part since assuming command following Adams' death in October.
Munchak, who indicated that he keeps in contact with Smith, said he believes the Titans are headed in the right direction, despite losing seven of nine since a 3-1 start, and that such things as having quarterback Jake Locker go down midway through the season have played a major role in the recent struggles.
"I think this team is going in the right direction heading into next year. Again we're not happy with where we are. The results aren't there," Munchak said. "If we win these three games we're 8-8 and obviously we're better than last year as far as our record goes. I think we've got players in place, and I think it's the way we compete, I think we've got a different type team than we had a year ago."
Munchak pointed to young pieces that are in place that should improve with more experience. Players like wide receiver Kendall Wright, guard Chance Warmack, center Brian Schwenke, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and linebacker Zach Brown would all appear to have bright futures for the Titans, but more pieces are needed in place in order for Tennessee to make the leap from mediocrity to contender.
One of the questions that now comes into play is whether or not Munchak will still be the man to direct the final step of trying to rebuild the Titans.
--One of the areas where the Titans will have to do some soul-searching in the offseason is at quarterback, according to coach Mike Munchak.
The Titans won't pick up Jake Locker's $13 million option for 2015, but he would appear to be the odds-on favorite to be the starter next season, if he can rehab successfully from a foot injury that knocked him out for the 2013 campaign.
Still, Munchak left open the possibility of the Titans exploring their options, even at quarterback, due to Locker's ongoing injury issues.
"He has a long road with rehab, and if anyone can come back from rehab, he's shown us he can. But again that's a tough decision for the offseason, and until the season is over, as you know in this league how things change from year to year and what opportunities there may be to get better, whether it be in the coaching staff or the players that are available, you just don't know the situation," Munchak said. "He's a guy that you know how I feel about him. You know how we felt when we were 3-1; he was on his way, so that did hurt a lot when he got hurt. I'm still hoping that he is gonna have a great career in this league by overcoming another injury.
--Safety Michael Griffin, just returning from a one-game suspension for a concussion hit on Oakland's Mychal Thompson a few weeks ago, had an interesting take on the league preference for not wanting blows from defenders to lead to concussions.
Griffin said, as have many players, that defenders are now forced to aim lower, leading to more severe leg injuries like the one New England tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered Sunday.
"Guys are more worried about having their knees taken out than getting a concussion, because you can hurt your knee and that might be your career," Griffin said. "People say, what about life after football, but most people in the league aren't thinking about life after football, they're thinking how can I continue to play this game for as long as I can. How can I keep the job I have now?"
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--TE Delanie Walker missed Sunday's game against the Broncos with a concussion, but is expected to play this week against the Cardinals.
--TE Craig Stevens returned after missing a game with a concussion and played about a dozen snaps Sunday in Denver.
--WR Damian Williams is close to returning from a hip injury. He was inactive again Sunday, but could play this week against Arizona.
--WR Justin Hunter continues to improve and had the second 100-yard receiving game as a rookie on Sunday. He had a 41-yard touchdown catch and a 57-yarder that set up another score.
--KR Leon Washington had an excellent game for Tennessee in his second week on the job. His 95-yard kickoff return set up Tennessee's second TD.
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: B - QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had a solid day for the Titans, but also had the misfortune of trying to match scores with Peyton Manning, which eventually led to a blowout.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Shonn Greene's 28-yard TD run was one of the highlights for the Titans Sunday, one of two scores he had on the day. Chris Johnson also had a TD run.
PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Titans had some good plays early in the game, but they generated no pass rush against Manning and had a number of penalties that kept Broncos drives alive.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- They really weren't tested that much, as Manning threw 59 times on the day.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Leon Washington's 95-yard kickoff return set up a Titans touchdown, and there were no screw-ups, something that has been an issue a good part of the year.
COACHING: D - The Titans' coaches get credit for having the team ready to play and playing well for the first two-and-a-half quarters. The problem was they allowed themselves to fall into a shootout and played right into Manning's hands.
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