NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak was asked the question one week ago today.
"Is [San Francisco] a must-win?" someone asked, according to the franchise's official website.
Answered Munchak: "Yeah, I think so."
Six days after that answer, the Titans lost. And badly, all things considered, falling 31-17 at home to the 49ers to drop to 3-4 on the season heading into this weekend's bye week.
Said Munchak afterward: "It's disappointing ... we're hurting ourselves way too much ... this is the story of where our offense has been -- drops and penalties."
But it was something else he said that may officially place Munchak's job security on the clock in his third season as head coach.
Noted Munchak in reviewing the Titans' overall performance: "That's kind of what happened last year."
Just to hit the refresh button, last year ended with six victories and 10 losses despite the franchise winning two of its final three.
If this year ends like last year, it's almost impossible to envision a scenario by which Munchak would return for a fourth season. But what of the possibilities north of that? What if the Titans wind up 7-9? Or 8-8? Or 9-7? Could they possibly finish 10-6, which might actually wrap up a playoff berth?
"I'm sure there are a lot of teams that started 3-4 and came back to make the playoffs," the coach said. "Why can't we win them all?"
The 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers once started the year 1-4, won their last nine and made the playoffs. So there's always hope. And aside from a Dec. 8 visit to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the Titans shouldn't be more than a touchdown underdog against any of their remaining opponents, which include two games against winless Jacksonville, and four others against teams which currently carry losing records.
This comeback could become especially doable if quarterback Jake Locker plays more like he did in Tennessee's 3-1 start than the QB who threw a costly first-half interception against the Niners.
Even then, Locker's numbers on the day -- 25-of-41 for 326 yards, two touchdowns and a 92.1 QB rating -- were surprisingly positive for a guy who's still nursing a sore knee and wasn't certain to play until Saturday.
"With the exception of today, the other three losses have been really close games," Locker said. "There's little things, details. We need to find a way to shore up those details so that I'm not standing here after the next game saying the same thing."
But there seemed to be a fear in the locker room after this one that last year could be happening all over again. Without naming names there was definite finger-pointing.
"We are a team that beats ourselves," said defensive back Michael Griffin.
Added safety Bernard Pollard: "Shame on us. As a team, we're giving teams points by making mistakes. We did a lot of things where we weren't disciplined."
"We've got to stop this now," chimed in cornerback Jason McCourty. "We can't let last season happen again."
They can't and still expect to hold on to their head coach, whom they all seem to like and defend. Munchak may have gone 9-7 his first season, but Sunday looked much closer to last year's 6-10.
Or to use his words, "This is a game we did not play our best in any phase."
To be fair, the 5-2 Niners surely had something to do with that. After all, they did reach the Super Bowl last season and have now won four straight by an average of 20 points.
Just as notable is the fact that three of the Titans' four defeats have come against teams -- San Fran, Kansas City and Seattle, with a combined mark of 18-3.
Yet this is also true: The Titans were penalized 10 times for 100 yards on Sunday, which is almost certain to make them one of the eight most penalized teams in the NFL when new statistics are released this week. There were also dropped passes and fumbled punts and too many blown assignments to count.
Yet when Munchak was asked about the penalties, he somewhat sarcastically replied, "Just blame it on me. It's a lack of discipline, I guess."
Sometimes words can hurt you. Another game or two like San Fran, one overrun with lack of discipline, and Titans owner Bud Adams is likely to do more than blame him. He's likely to fire him.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...
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