VOL. 131 | NO. 255 | Friday, December 23, 2016
Long-Suffering Titans Fans Finally Have Their Team Back
BY TERRY McCORMICK, Nashville Sports Correspondent
Tennessee has its NFL team back. The Titans had slipped off the national radar about eight years ago and – to a lesser extent – out of Nashville’s consciousness a few years after that, sometime around the end of the Jeff Fisher era and throughout the following years.
Tennessee Titans kicker Ryan Succop celebrates after his 53-yard, game-winning field goal at Kansas City. The win keeps the Titans in the hunt for the AFC South championship and a return to playoff football.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Oh sure, there were still the diehards who clung to hope and the fans who got excited about free agency and the draft. But most of the Titan talk – what little there was – either focused on the negative or wondered how things had slipped so far off course.
But Ryan Succop’s 53-yard field goal, which just cleared the crossbar in icy Kansas City on Sunday, gave the Titans a 19-17 win and pumped life back into the franchise and the fan base.
Succop’s kick, Mike Mularkey’s bold move of going for two and disdaining the tying extra point, and the play of Marcus Mariota in the fourth quarter dominated the water cooler conversations on Monday.
To be fair, is has been building for a few weeks – gathering steam with an impressive win over Green Bay (45-27) a few weeks ago and adding momentum with the home win (13-10) against the reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos just last week.
But Sunday’s road win in the bitter cold at Kansas City took it to a level that said that these Titans are legitimate – even with all their flaws and blemishes.
At 8-6 and with a serious chance to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008, the Titans are once again the talk of the town – in a positive and hopeful way.
This isn’t the most talented Titans team. The needed rebuild that began in January on new general manager Jon Robinson’s watch is still very much on-going.
There are weaknesses and issues that won’t and can’t be addressed until the off-season.
But if nothing else, these Titans are a resilient team with a chance to win on any given Sunday. Or Saturday, as it the case with this week’s must-win at Jacksonville.
“I think we’re learning how to win some of these games,” Mularkey says. “I mean, we’ve lost some of these games earlier in the year where we couldn’t defensively stop a team, where we thought if we get a stop here, we felt confident that we were going to take it down and score with our two-minute offense and we didn’t.
“Again, I’m using that as one example because our defense played outstanding (on Sunday).
“But I think we’re learning a lot about ourselves, what we’re capable of doing, what we can and cannot do. That’s going to be a weekly thing for this team until we get where we want to go.”
This team has now progressed to the point of discovering how to win and what it can accomplish by bonding and getting contributions from all phases.
Consider how things unfolded in the final half of the fourth quarter on Sunday and what it says about the Titans going forward.
After scoring what could have been the tying touchdown, Mularkey goes for the kill shot with a two-point conversion. It was more a statement of confidence than strategy.
When the move backfired, leaving the Titans no margin for error in trying to come back, they somehow did, showing their willingness to play for Mularkey, no matter what the circumstances.
“I think that is what defines this team, and it is the culture we are building around here,” quarterback Mariota says.
“Guys continue to believe in that and continue to believe in the culture coach Mularkey is instilling. We are on the right path.”
And back in the heart of their fans.
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com