Sunday, September 11, 2005

Titans Lay Egg in Season Debut, but They're Not Alone

SPORTS MEDIA AMERICA's preseason NFL predictions [click here] included high hopes for the Tennessee Titans. Everyone says they're rebuilding, but we thought we'd put some faith in the things that were already good about the team, and then presume that Coach Jeff Fisher (pictured above) could work some magic with the youngsters. Thankfully, there are 15 games left, and the Titans still have time to get on track. But based on the season opener against Pittsburgh, there's a ton of work to be done.

The Titans looked good early. Then an unlikely, momentum-changing interception by the Steelers turned the whole game around, and the Titans were swept aside like the Gulf Coast in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Even the final score, 34-7, didn't indicate how bad the Titans looked. The offensive line, presumably a strength, was often overwhelmed by the muscular Pittsburgh defense. The Titans' own D looked far worse than even dedicated, positive-thinking fans might've thought imaginable.

The Titans turned the ball over four times, and Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger took advantage, looking in total command, as the Steelers scored on their first six possessions. Roethlisberger used fleet and shifty WR Antwaan Randle El to good effect, then handed the ball off to a relative newcomer, Willie Parker, a second-year RB who simply stomped over and through the youthful and confused Titans for 161 yards. Making matters worse, Titans All-Pro LB Keith Bulluck left the game with a minor injury.

For a young team like the Titans, you couldn't imagine a more gut-wrenching reality check. Those of us who still believe in the team's near future count the positives: Steve McNair looked good--and healthy--at QB; Chris Brown and Travis Henry WILL provide consistent running, especially once OL Brad Hopkins returns to the team; the rookie wide receivers have promise, and will step up to assist veterans Drew Bennett and Tyrone Calico. On defense, there remains a ton of promise on the defensive line, and we here at SMA believe that youngsters like Antwan Odom, Randy Stark, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and "veteran" Albert Haynesworth will start to pressure opposing quarterbacks. When they do, the restructured secondary might have a chance to find itself.

So the Titans have their work cut out for them. Fact is, they're not alone. A lot of playoff teams from last year took a Week 1 hit. The Vikings lost to the Bucs, Seattle lost to Jacksonville, the Chargers were defeated by the Cowboys, St. Louis lost to the supposedly lowly 49ers, the Jets lost to Kansas City, and the Packers lost to Detroit. Other teams with legit playoff aspirations also bit the dust Sunday, including Denver, Baltimore and Carolina. Yet another 2004 playoff team will lose on Monday night, as the Philadelphia Eagles battle the Atlanta Falcons.

So it's early yet--for everyone. This season promises surprises, and maybe a major changing of the guard. We still think the Titans can step up and ambush their competition.

Call it a faith-based initiative.

[P.S.: In the Addition by Subtraction Dept., we noted with a little glee that the Chicago Bears' attempted game-winning fourth-quarter drive Sunday against the Redskins was thwarted, in part, when former Titan OL Fred Miller was called for a motion penalty. "False-Start Freddie" killed many a drive doing that for Tennessee, and SMA was hugely relieved when he left for Chicago during the off-season. Miller is talented, and he's also been around a good long while. But it's a mystery why someone that experienced constantly makes the same mistake over and over. The Bears better get used to it.]


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