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Three games in, the Titans may have found a "new look" that fits

Project Run Away



The marketing types at Baptist Sports Park really nailed it when they decided to brand the 2011 Tennessee Titans as a "new look" team.

In fact, this team wants to look new so badly, they change their look by the week.

An iron-depleted performance on the road in Jacksonville in Week One had Titans fans scratching their heads, wondering why the team even bothered to bring in a new staff and a revamped quarterback corps.

It was the same mediocre, beige brand of football the two-toners played in 2010, this time showing up in a winnable game against an opponent whose quarterback, Luke McCown, was a career backup.

It was made doubly frustrating by the fact that despite 55 minutes of uninspired pabulum, the Titans were in a position to win, down two in the waning seconds, but for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck making the bizarre decision to throw downfield to a double-covered Kenny Britt rather than checking down to Chris Johnson, open underneath in perfect position to set up a game-winning field goal. It was the same baffling decision-making Titans fans had become accustomed to during the Vince Young era.

It didn't bode well for the home opener in Week Two, which brought the Baltimore Ravens, the Titans' Professor Moriarty, to LP Field. Baltimore — the same team that the week before had made the Pittsburgh Steelers look like South Pittsburg High School. Disaster loomed.

But the Week Two Titans who showed up to play looked nothing like the Week One Titans. These ruffians sent the Ravens over the Reichenbach Falls in brutal business-like fashion, to extend the Sherlock Holmes metaphor — and they even managed not to fall in themselves. (You'll recall that in "The Final Problem," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off both Holmes and Moriarty, only to bring back the former, zombie-like, after a groundswell of popular demand. Reports of the detective's death were premature ... just like those of the Titans! See, we knew that analogy was headed somewhere.)

Anyway. Two weeks, two vastly different looks indeed. Who would show up for Week Three?

Last Sunday's Broncos game was circled as winnable from early on, even after the debacle against the Jags. And once again, these semper reformanda Titans stayed on the marketing department's message.

The running backs were still woeful, but the Titans got their longest rush of the year from Brett Kern — who, is of course, a punter. "Crazy Legs" Kern made the most of a botched snap, looking more rugby fly half than NFL specialist, feigning a punt with a defender in his face and then dashing around right end for a 21-yard gain.

The game-winning drive featured a 56-yard catch-and-run by Craig Stevens, a blocking-specialist tight end who no doubt eked out extra yards because the Broncos defense thought it illegal to throw a deep pass to No. 88.

The go-ahead touchdown pass was caught by another tight end. In a twist of poetic justice, it was Broncos cast-off Daniel Graham.

Graham and Stevens had plenty of chances to catch crucial passes, since the team's gamebreaker-in-waiting, wide receiver Kenny Britt, went out with a knee injury — now known to be a season-ending double ligament tear.

It's an especially tough blow for the Titans to take. Chris Johnson has 98 yards rushing after three games — a tough pill to swallow considering his holdout and his new contract, which may prove to be the size of a very large albatross. With the rushing game looking increasingly pedestrian — a punter's improvisations notwithstanding — the team viewed Britt as its deal closer.

Now, though, Mike Munchak & Co. will have to look elsewhere. First, of course, to find a fill-in for Britt's open roster spot, likely filled by a retread free agent. Team brass ruled out aging lightning-rod wide receivers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, whom you may remember for his excellent blocking in the second half of the 2010 Titans' season.

Fortunately, the Titans don't need to make a risk-reward decision at wideout as long as Nate Washington keeps up his blistering start. The vet has remixed his same old song, no longer dropping balls in key situations. Instead, general manager Mike Reinfeldt need only find a serviceable player to fill that fifth wide receiver position.

These Titans are better than the punditry predicted in the pre-season — and better than they looked in the woeful Week One. But it's hard to see how many new looks they can roll out in the next four months.

Whatever happens, it won't be boring — and that's the most welcome new look of all.


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